Questions swirl after renowned gunsmith dies in Toronto police raid | Radio-Canada News

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Jeffrey Kotanko said he plans to visit his 70-year-old brother Rodger on November 3 and go fishing with him later today.

The two brothers have met almost every day for the past 14 years. They lived within minutes of each other in Norfolk County, deep in southern Ontario, near Lake Erie.

But that Wednesday, they didn’t go fishing.

Instead, Jeffrey found himself running to his brother’s house after hearing Rodger’s wife Jessie.

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“She said there were guys there with guns and Rodger was injured,” Jeffrey told TBEN Hamilton.

Hearing about Rodger near guns was not unusual – he was a world famous gunsmith, known as one of the best in Canada and someone the local police trusted to fix their guns at. fire, according to people who knew him.

Kotanko’s home on Port Ryerse Road in Norfolk County is to the left of his studio. His family’s lawyer, Michael Smitiuch, says Kotanko has worked for local police, the military and international clients. (Bobby Hristova / TBEN)

But upon learning that his brother was injured, Jeffrey rushed to Rodger’s on Port Ryerse Road.

By the time he arrived, Rodger was already dead – gunned down in his workshop next to his home, according to friends and family, then taken away by paramedics.

What exactly happened sparked an investigation by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), Ontario’s police watchdog, and, two weeks later, many unanswered questions.

“Unusual” police actions

The Toronto Police Department said at noon that day – in broad daylight – its officers executed a search warrant on the property. It is not known what information they had and how many officers were at the scene, but the service said it was looking for guns. The family said no warrant was left behind.

Quentin Dixon, Rodger’s longtime friend, said officers carrying assault rifles had Jessie at gunpoint as she unloaded groceries from the vehicle.

Some officers wore civilian clothes while others wore tactical gear, according to family, friends, neighbors and Michael Smitiuch, the family’s attorney, with whom TBEN all spoke this week.

They say Toronto police brought their own ambulance and paramedics with them when they arrived, a decision Toronto defense attorney Kim Schofield, who has worked on numerous cases involving the SIU, has said. described as “very unusual”.

Schofield said officers are also generally required to give the family a copy of the search warrant.

“This is madness,” she said after hearing about the case.

Quentin Dixon, with a photo of Kotanko, says his longtime friend loved his family and was hoping to retire in a few years. (Bobby Hristova / TBEN)

Friends and family also said Rodger was with an apparent customer in his workshop when police arrived. They separately shared the same details of what they say happened.

“The group of police walked towards the entrance to the store door and nothing was said… within seconds four shots rang out,” Dixon said.

Fraser Pringle, Rodger’s next door neighbor, said he heard two of the shots.

“I came here and they rolled him onto a stretcher, threw him in an ambulance and took him away,” he said.

“His wife was standing on the porch crying.”

Fraser Pringle, Kotanko’s neighbor, said he heard two gunshots before going to Kotanko’s home and seeing police at the scene, next to the gunsmith’s weeping wife. (Bobby Hristova / TBEN)

By the time Jeffrey arrived at the scene, about 20 minutes after the shooting, OPP officers were also securing the scene.

SIU says it is investigating one officer and that three officers were witnesses. An autopsy was also held, but the investigation could take four months, the statement said.

A family kept “in the dark”: the lawyer

Smitiuch said the SIU and Toronto Police kept the family “in the dark.”

“I was held back when the family felt they weren’t getting answers,” he said in an interview Wednesday afternoon, ahead of a press conference he expected to hold on Thursday. at the family home to draw attention to the matter.

We are looking for answers and to be held to account … the problem we have is that we do not have a real witness to whom we could speak and who saw all the events.– Michael Smitiuch, lawyer for Rodger Kotanko’s family

“We are looking for answers and to be held to account… the problem we have is that we do not have a real witness to whom we could speak and who saw all of the events.”

The family and Smitiuch do not have a copy of the search warrant used by the police and do not have enough information to obtain a copy. He added that he had not heard from the Toronto Police or the SIU.

Smitiuch said they were unable to locate the apparent client who was with Rodger and that the SIU could not confirm to TBEN News if a second person was in the shop.

“Rodger’s phone is now with the police and no one else in the family has spoken to this individual, there is no certainty as to exactly who this person was.”

Experts question the police approach

Smitiuch also said that based on the limited information they had, Toronto Police had little or no communication with the local OPP, even though the OPP would have known Rodger. Provincial police declined to comment.

Although the police and the SIU have not confirmed whether this was a smooth raid or “dynamic entry” – when police enter a residence with a search warrant but without notifying residents – lawyers familiar with these cases say it looks like one. Toronto Police do hundreds surprise raids per year.

The letterbox outside Kotanko’s house bears his last name. He was living with his wife, who left China a few years ago, according to his friends, family and neighbors. (Bobby Hristova / TBEN)

Ottawa criminal lawyer Lawrence Greenspon said the degree of lethal force used is obvious to him.

“What possible justification could there be for them to shoot four bullets, killing the guy?” ” he said.

Stephen Metelsky, professor of criminology at Mohawk College in Hamilton and retired police sergeant, said he wondered why the search warrant was executed at noon instead of 3 or 5 a.m.

“The reason they’re doing this… the element of surprise, most people are in bed and that’s for the safety of everyone involved… and the second part is preserving the evidence.”

Smitiuch said he wondered why police waited until Rodger was in his store, which was reportedly filled with guns, instead of approaching earlier today or elsewhere.

“If they show up at a butcher’s shop and a butcher is working with a knife, that shouldn’t surprise them … When you walk into a gunsmith’s shop, what do you expect to see? ? go see guns.

“The family is devastated, they are heartbroken but they are also outraged and they are afraid… the police are supposed to serve and protect, not surprise and kill,” Smitiuch said.

Dixon said Rodger’s death was preventable.

“All it would have taken was knocking on the door.

Rodger is remembered as a master gunsmith

Rodger was born and raised in Norfolk County and raised on a farm with his siblings, according to his brother Jeffrey. He loved fishing and hunting. His passion for guns started when he was young.

He worked as a certified gunsmith for decades, going through regular inspections by the Chief Firearms Officer of Ontario (who declined to comment).

His company, the Dark International Trading Company, also known as RK Custom Guns, operated out of his workshop. He repaired and modified guns while shipping and selling them, according to the website.

Rodger was the mentor of Dan Nagy, owner of Eli’s Guns & Archery.

“He was known all over North America and other countries around the world… I would say he was one of the best pistol blacksmiths in this country,” Nagy said.

Smitiuch said Rodger had an immense reputation as a gunsmith and because he was a certified gunsmith his criminal record was “perfectly clean.”

Kotanko, 70, loved hunting and fishing, and in his youth, skydiving, his relatives say. He is survived by his wife Jessie, daughter Minying and sons Colton and Conner. (Submitted by Jeffrey Kotanko)

Rodger married his third wife, Jessie, in China in 2012 before she moved to Canada. He had two sons from his previous marriage, Colton and Conner, and a daughter, Minying.

Dixon said he plans to retire in the next few years and move to China with his wife and daughter.

Rodger’s family said they would fight to honor him and hold the police to account.

“Jessie doesn’t even care about the money. She wants justice,” said Jeffrey, Rodger’s brother.

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