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‘I wish we had never called the police’: Alberta man fatally shot during mental health crisis

Red Deer parents regret calling police after officer fatally shoots their mentally ill son
Jane and Vernon Deon of Red Deer say a Red Deer RCMP officer police should not have fatally shot their mentally ill son, Derek Deon. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff)

The parents of a Red Deer man who was fatally shot by police this week say there was no reason for RCMP to have used lethal force against their son.

“I wish we had never called the police,” a tearful Jane Deon told the Advocate, a day after her 33-year-old son, Derek Deon, was shot three times by an officer while in his downstairs bedroom.

Jane and her husband, Vernon Deon, are still trying to process what unfolded after three officers bearing rifle-like weapons “stormed” into their house to confront their adult son.

Vernon said on Thursday afternoon he called 911 after Derek, who was diagnosed with a schizophrenia spectrum disorder, had made verbal threats.

This was Vernon’s attempt to provide more evidence that his son could be a threat to himself and others — which he was told was needed to get Derek admitted to hospital under the Mental Health Act.

Vernon had visited the police detachment earlier that day to gather the required forms but left when the officer he needed to speak to was unavailable.

READ MORE: Man with knife shot and killed by RCMP in Red Deer

When the three police officers entered the home and descended the stairs to Derek’s bedroom, they found him just lying on his bed, fidgeting with a steak knife, said Vernon.

He believes there was only about a minute of conversation, before the officers used a Taser on Derek when he didn’t drop the steak knife.

He saw his son stagger out of bed and go down on one knee. Before Derek could fully rise to his feet, an officer shot him three times as Vernon cried out, “Don’t shoot!” he recalled.

The father said he couldn’t remember whether Derek was still holding the steak knife at that point.

Vernon wishes the officers had taken more time to talk to his son, saying, “This wasn’t a hostage situation.”

He and Jane said they didn’t feel physically endangered by Derek, who had never held the knife up to either of them before police arrived.

In a statement after the incident, Red Deer RCMP said officers were responding to a complaint of a man threatening to harm individuals with a knife inside the home – to which Vernon strongly disputes.

The father also questions why police didn’t publicly state this was a mental health-related matter, especially as the local Police and Crisis Team had previously dealt with Derek several times.

Jane and Vernon didn’t expect this kind of police response. They had previously dealt with PACT, but later found out the specialized team that includes social workers and mental health experts, was busy on another call.

Corp. Troy Savinkoff, communications officer for RCMP K-Division, said police only release an outline of what happened without many added details. Under law, all police-involved shootings are investigated by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, although this can take months to years to complete as investigators gather evidence and accounts from the officers involved.

Police have not released whether any action is being taken against the officer who discharged the firearm. However, the director of law enforcement has deemed that this use of fatal force to be “in scope” or falling within the purview of a police officer’s job.

Jane said their son’s mental health challenges began at about age 14. Before he quit school in Grade 10 because of bullying, he had been an honour student.

Leading up to Thursday, the parents said that their son had been off his medications and felt he was struggling as his schizophrenia spectrum mental disorder worsened.

“I could hear him talking all night,” said Vernon, who explained his son lived with a “fan club” of voices in his head. As a result, Derek would act agitated.

Lately he had been flicking his hands in his parent’s face and sometimes saying threatening things, said Vernon.

Derek was well known at the corner store in Anders, where he would buy lottery tickets. Often he would be seen walk around Red Deer in a long military-type coat.

“He was a really good artist and photographer and he loved music,” said an emotional Vernon.

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Lana Michelin

About the Author: Lana Michelin

Lana Michelin has been a reporter for the Red Deer Advocate since moving to the city in 1991.
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