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Lawsuit filed by family of Whistler business owner killed in March incident alleges police used ‘extreme and excessive force’

Jason Koehler was reportedly tasered, pepper sprayed and struck with batons during March 8 disturbance call
Jason Koehler, who died in a March 8 police incident at a village restaurant. Facebook photo

A notice of civil claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court this week alleges that RCMP officers used “extreme and excessive” force in a March incident that left Whistler business owner Jason Koehler dead.

Filed June 9 in Kamloops by Koehler’s mother, the claim alleges that the four attending RCMP members, and in particular John Doe Officer #4, caused Koehler’s death “by using excessive force while performing their unlawful arrest.”

Koehler, the owner of smoking accessories shop 2 Guys with Pipes, was at Stonesedge Restaurant in the village on the morning of March 8 when police were called regarding a disturbance. The claim alleges that, shortly after arriving on the scene, the initial three officers resorted to the use of physical force “with limited efforts to de-escalating the situation and no reason to believe bodily harm to anyone was imminent.”

In addition to using excessive force, the claim alleges that John Doe Officer #4 arrived on the scene, made “a poorly handled situation substantially worse by acting with malice or gross negligence,” and along with the other officers, continued to use force “long after it should have been clear that such force was unnecessary.” The claim alleges that police used force “specifically intended to inflict emotional distress.”

The plaintiff also goes on to claim the officers did not have adequate training on use-of-force policies, particularly in regards to de-escalation and the use of weapons during arrests.

In a statement issued shortly after the police-involved death, the RCMP said officers used pepper spray, a taser and batons on an intoxicated Koehler “in an effort to gain control” of him. "The male suddenly became still and officers began CPR and called emergency health services," the statement continued. Koehler was taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The claim, in turn, alleges that Koehler, who has a history of mental health issues that previously brought him into contact with police, was not violent with the attending officers, was unarmed, and communicated “his willingness to peacefully leave the restaurant, while raising his hands above his head and placing them in front of his body” so he could be handcuffed.

The last words Koehler said to police, according to the claim, were: “Don’t kill me.”

Flowers left at the shop Koehler owns, 2 Guys with Pipes, following his March 8 death. Photo by Brandon Barrett

An investigation into the incident by police oversight agency the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is nearing completion, and chief civilian director Ron MacDonald told Pique in a recent interview that the agency is still looking to speak with several witnesses who have since left the country.

“I’m hoping it doesn’t take too much longer,” he said. “Unfortunately, we have been faced with a number of cases in a short period of time, so our resources at the moment are a little bit stretched.”

As previously reported by Pique, Koehler was involved in an April 2015 police incident that reportedly required seven officers to restrain him. At the time, police said they believed Koehler was in a "drug-induced psychosis" after ingesting what they suspected was a large amount of cocaine. Koehler was sentenced the following month on charges of assault and resisting a peace officer.

As a result of her son’s death, the claim alleges that Koehler’s mother has suffered from insomnia, extreme emotional distress, depression and a loss of faith in police and authority figures.

The Koehler family is seeking compensation for funeral expenses, loss of guidance and support, loss of financial support, loss of household services, loss of inheritance, and special damages, including travel and accommodation costs.

The four officers have 21 days to respond to the claim from the date it was served.

None of the above claims have been proven in court.