Toronto police officer who fatally shot renowned gunsmith did so in self-defence, says SIU

Hamilton

Ontario’s police watchdog said Thursday its investigation found "no reasonable grounds to believe" the officer who shot Rodger Kotanko in Simcoe, Ont. on Nov. 3 committed a crime.

The Special Investigations Unit says Rodger Kotanko, 70, pointed a gun at police before an officer shot him.(Submitted by Jeffrey Kotanko)

Ontario's police watchdog says the Toronto police officer who shot a renowned gunsmith in Simcoe, Ont., did so in self-defence.

Special Investigations Unit director Joseph Martino said in his final report on the case, released Thursday, he found "no reasonable grounds to believe" the officer who shot Rodger Kotanko to death committed a crime.

Kotanko was pointing a firearm at the officers — who yelled at him to drop it — before he was shot, the report said.

The watchdog said it interviewed six witness officers, excluding the one who shot Kotanko, and two civilians. They used the notes of seven witness officers, according to the report.

Police were executing a search warrant at the 70-year-old gunsmith's workshop on Nov. 3.

Search warrant documents previously revealed two Norinco 1911A1 pistols under Kotanko's name were found at crime scenes in Toronto and North Bay, leading police to accuse the gunsmith of illegally transferring them to someone else.

Martino said the officers had "no confusion" as they executed the search warrant. They contacted Ontario Provincial Police in advance but carried out the warrant on their own, the report says.

The door into gunsmith Rodger Kotanko's workshop was closed off due to the SIU investigation. He died after a Toronto police raid on Nov. 3.(Bobby Hristova/CBC)

The report states when the officers met up in nearby Hagersville, they decided how they would approach Kotanko. Given Kotanko's age and lack of violence in his past, they would knock, announce their presence and speak to Kotanko before entering his home or workshop.

The officers then drove to the residence, arriving in unmarked vehicles, the report said. Kotanko and his wife had just returned from a shopping trip. She was unloading groceries from the vehicle to the home, beside the gunsmithing workshop.

The director's report states Kotanko was inside the workshop with a customer who was getting his Norinco 1911A1 pistol fixed for a repair.

The customer said they were planning on dropping off the gun and coming back later, but Kotanko said it would only take 15 minutes to fix, according to the SIU.

That's when officers approached Kotanko's wife and asked for his whereabouts. Then, they announced, with guns drawn, they were executing a search warrant and asked both men to raise their hands, the report says.

Martino said it was "reasonable" officers had their guns drawn given the allegation and the fact the workshop was likely full of guns.

Kotanko pointed gun at police: SIU

The customer complied but Kotanko didn't despite multiple requests, according to the report.

"Within seconds of their entry, Mr. Kotanko reached with his right hand toward the workbench, retrieved a firearm, and pointed it at the officers as they yelled at him to drop the gun. He did not," reads the report.

Then an officer shot Kotanko four times. The whole interaction lasted between five and 10 seconds, the report said.

A photo of Rodger Kotanko and his wife, Jessie, is held by Kotanko's son Conner in November, 2021. The family's lawyer, Michael Smitiuch, standing in front, said the family deserves answers.(Bobby Hristova/CBC)

"The officer fired his weapon to protect himself — and possibly the other officer — from a reasonably apprehended assault. For reasons unknown, Mr. Kotanko ignored the officers' direction to raise his hands, picked up a firearm, refused to drop it and pointed the gun at the officers."

The gun Kotanko was holding wasn't operable at the time, according to the report, but the officer who pulled the trigger wouldn't have known that, according to Martino.

"I am unable to fault the officer for choosing to meet a reasonably apprehended threat of imminent and lethal force with a resort to lethal force of his own," he wrote.

The report states police called for a Norfolk County ambulance as they tried to keep Kotanko alive. The ambulance arrived about 10 minutes later. The family has previously stated police came with their own ambulance.

Kotanko was taken to Norfolk General Hospital where he was pronounced dead, according to the SIU.

An autopsy revealed he died of multiple gunshot wounds.

Family 'saddened' by findings

Michael Smitiuch, the lawyer representing Kotanko's family, said in an e-mail the family is "taking time to review and absorb the report, and try to understand how a customer's life could be endangered and Rodger killed without a single police officer taking any responsibility."

"The family is shocked and saddened by the findings."

This comes as the Toronto Police Services Board faces a $23 million civil suit from the family, who accuse police of conducting an unlawful raid that led to his wrongful death.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bobby Hristova is a reporter/editor with CBC Hamilton. Email: bobby.hristova@cbc.ca

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