On August 31, 2009, former Ontario Attorney General, Michael Bryant was involved in a road rage attack that killed cyclist Darcy Allan Sheppard. Bryant was arrested that evening but he did not make a statement to police. He would not make a statement until almost eight months later when he and his lawyers received complete and full disclosure of the Crown’s case. Bryant did however make a 911 call to police. After he successfully knocked Darcy Allan Sheppard off his car with a fire hydrant, Bryant fled to the Hyatt Hotel on Avenue Road just north of Bloor. It became the staging area for his defence.
Bryant described his actions in his book, “28 Seconds”
“So I turned right on Avenue Road and drove into the hotel’s circular driveway and found, I thought, sanctuary. I stopped the car and pulled up the emergency brake-for what would be the final time. I couldn’t find my cell phone. Susan offered hers.”
In a video interview with the Toronto Star, he said: “And so I pulled over and called 911. It was… police need to come and protect us.”
In his CBC interview with Amanda Lang he said: “So I drove in and called 911 and ah said, help, bring police..”
His lawyer, Marie Henein wrote in her article, “Split Seconds Matter,” “He drove to safety just around the corner to a hotel and called 911.”
What’s missing from all of these descriptions is that when Michael Bryant drove to the Hyatt Hotel, in what he described as a state of fear, he did not call 911 right away. He waited three minutes!
He first spoke with the doorman, then he looked around the car for his Blackberry and then after three minutes he used his wife’s phone to call 911. Despite having her phone with her, the entire time, Bryant’s wife, Susan Abramovitch never called 911 for help at any time.
In contrast Witness 9.13, told her husband to call 911 as soon as Bryant drove into Sheppard, knocked him on the hood of the car and scraping Sheppard’s bike along Bloor Street, leaving a twenty two foot scratch in the road.
“Then, the car driver just kind of decided that he was just going to drive off with the guy in front of him, and that’s when he tried to run him over. He basically started to move – the cyclist was in front of him and he didn’t care. He just started driving. And that’s when I got my husband’s Blackberry and said, “Phone 911, now.” And I was screaming at him, “Get the number plate. Get the number plate.” And I thought maybe even if I screamed, “Get the number plate”, that the man in the car would hear me say that. You know ‘cause if I take his number plate he knows I’m watching what he is doing and he’s going to be caught.”
Witness 9.13 also said:
“You know he, literally…if you’re scared, you stop the car. You phone 911.”
The police reconstruction report states: “Mr. BRYANT drove westbound on Bloor Street West and turned north on Avenue Road. Mr. BRYANT entered the Hyatt Regency Hotel and parked his vehicle. Mr. BRYANT had a conversation with the concierge and called police.”
In court Richard Peck stated “Mr. Bryant also advised the doorman that he, that is Bryant, needed to call the police.”
Peck also says “Initially, on arriving at the hotel, Mr. Bryant could not find his cell phone or Blackberry, and looked for it in the driver’s footwell.”
“Mr. Bryant used his wife’s cell phone to call 911. This occurred approximately three minutes after he arrived.”
The three minute delay in calling 911 is significant not only because Bryant was supposedly extremely terrified that Sheppard would come after him but also because Bryant knew the test for criminal negligence causing death and dangerous driving causing death. In fact he wrote it. While he was a clerk for at the Supreme Court of Canada, Bryant wrote a draft of Justice Beverly McLachlin’s Supreme Court majority opinion in Hundal v Regina which set out the test for criminal negligence causing death and dangerous driving causing death.
Bryant is also someone who has been described as a quick thinker. In the Globe and Mail, Bryant’s former parliamentary assistant, David Zimmer, noted that Bryant “is definitely a high-energy guy. He’s the kind of person who can see every side to an issue in a nanosecond, so he becomes very impatient when things bog down – you can see his feet vibrating on the floor when things aren’t moving fast enough.”
In “28 Seconds”, Bryant described his quick thinking and preparation:
“From Tom [Heintzman] and this posse of barristers I learned how to balance the need for thoroughness with the ability to meet deadlines, the need for creativity in the moment and the need to be prepared for everything. I learned how to anticipate what the other side might do, and to have on hand a response to the anticipated reaction. I would often have two or three appeal factums ready before we even went to court. The strategy was basically to steamroll the other side.”
He would also describe his approach to become a clerk at the Supreme Court by deceiving Justice McLauchlin as, “True to form, I again tried to manipulate the process as best I could.”
Bryant knew that his 911 call would be recorded and examined. Whether by design or his fortunate coincidence, the three minute delay in calling 911 gave him an opportunity to think about what to tell the 911 operator. If he only needed a “nanosecond to see every side of an issue” imagine what he could do with three minutes and some “creativity in the moment.”
Three minutes is enough time to come up with a phantom swing that is not on any video. Three minutes is enough time to portray himself as a victim. Three minutes is enough time to say he was attacked and robbed. Three minutes is more than enough time for the former Attorney General of Ontario to come up with the basis for a defence that would satisfy the test for criminal negligence causing death and dangerous driving causing death. And three minutes is certainly enough time to realize there may be witnesses and possible surveillance video of events.
In “28 Seconds” Bryant sought every opportunity to portray Darcy Allan Sheppard as “big, drunk and raging, growling, glaring, and cackling.” Bryant attempted to dehumanize Sheppard by referring to him as “the beast” with “super-human strength” “behaving like a Tasmanian Devil.”
Three minutes could have been enough of a delay for this Darcy Allan Sheppard to run to the Hyatt Hotel and attack Bryant and his wife before police arrived. Yet what did Bryant do? He stopped and spoke with the concierge, then he left his wife vulnerable and bent into his car with his back turned and exposed, rummaging around for his cell phone. The Hotel had many phones and employees perfectly capable of calling police. His wife had a cell phone. He didn’t need that specific phone. Maybe he needed the three minutes more than he needed the phone.
Special prosecutor, Richard Peck didn’t play the 911 call in court. Instead he read a partial transcript which he introduced by saying that Bryant called and said he was attacked by a guy on a bike but the police reconstruction quoted Bryant’s words as “Guy on a bike sort of attacked me.”
Partial transcript of Bryant’s 911 call:
“He was literally picking fights with people on the corner of Yonge and Bloor, and putting up obstacles in the way and trying to stop cars from going. We all avoided him, drove past him, and then he came back.
I’m in a convertible, so he came back and he started, I mean, I thought he took a swing at me, but whatever, he missed. And then he pulled in front of me and stopped. I slammed on the brakes and I tried to get away, and then he… the next thing I know, he’s, like, literally trying to climb into my car, and I think he grabbed something from the car and pulled it out.”
The police reconstruction report also said that Bryant “believed the cyclist grabbed his Blackberry.”
So according to Bryant’s 911 call, he was sort of attacked, thought Sheppard took a swing at him but whatever.
He also says “I slammed on the brakes and I tried to get away, and then he… the next thing I know, he’s, like, literally trying to climb into my car.”
In Bryant’s 911 version of the events the car didn’t stall. Bryant would wait eight months and until after full disclosure to come up with that detail.
No witnesses came forward to support Bryant’s statement that Sheppard was “picking fights with people on the corner of Yonge and Bloor” and this does not appear on any video surveillance.
In court Richard Peck and Marie Henein would emphasize Bryant’s car stalling. In his book, interviews and speeches Bryant would also emphasize the stalling. It would become one of the most important pieces of his narrative yet even with a three minute wait before calling 911 on August 31, 2009 Bryant’s car stalling was not a part of his narrative – yet.
In his CBC interview with his close friend, Amanda Lang, Bryant acknowledged that at the time of his 911 call, he thought there were no eyewitnesses to his actions. He said,
“Ah but um I couldn’t see any – it seemed like the streets were empty. There was no cars coming and there was no people there.
“And afterwards when I talked to my lawyer I said, it’s so weird that at 9:45 p.m. in Toronto on Bloor Street between Bay and Avenue there would be nobody there. So we’ve got no witnesses.”
Compare how Michael Bryant describes what happened in his 911 call, (when he thought there were no witnesses), with how he described events after he was aware of the surveillance video and after full and complete disclosure of the Crown’s case, almost eight months later.
28 Seconds: “The man on the bicycle breezed by, swung at my face then swerved in front of our car and stopped. I hit the brakes. The old Saab stopped and stalled.”
28 Seconds: “As he passed, he slowed, coming very close to my side door. I sensed him swipe his hand at me. I ducked instinctively to my right, hitting the brakes and turning the wheels to the right. It was then I stalled the car, presumably taking my foot off the gas and clutch while putting on the brakes. “
Amanda Lang interview, MB: Yeah. He’s in front of the car. Um – um – the light had turned green. I stopped and the car stalled.
Peck: “Mr. Bryant ducked to his right, at the same time, hitting his brakes and turning his wheels to the right. Mr. Bryant says, then stalled”
Henein: “Startled, Michael moved right, away from Darcy Sheppard. Michael was shocked and he slammed on the brakes to stop the car. The car stalled”
Henein in Split Seconds Matter: “Startled, Michael moved the vehicle to the right, away from Darcy Sheppard. Michael was shocked and slammed on the brakes to stop the car. The car stalled.”
Now we have Bryant’s 911 call on August 31, 2009:
“I mean, I thought he took a swing at me, but whatever, he missed. And then he pulled in front of me and stopped. I slammed on the brakes and I tried to get away,”
We also have the crown’s video experts who appear in the police reconstruction report:
“A bicycle operated by Mr. Darcy SHEPPARD, travelled westbound along the center yellow dividing line on Bloor Street West. Mr. SHEPPARD abruptly turned in front of the Saab and stopped as the traffic light turned green. Mr. BRYANT accelerated the Saab forward, and bumped the rear tire of the bicycle with the front bumper of the vehicle and stopped”
Witnesses 9.12 and 9.13 were standing within a few feet of Bryant’s car when the incident occurred. They both spoke with the 911 operator and they were both interviewed hours later by Police Detective Hanna Bartz. Because Bryant would not make his claim of the his car stalling until almost eight months later, Bartz did not know to ask the witnesses if Bryant’s car did in fact stall. Neither of the witnesses mentioned the car stalling in their careful recount of what happened and neither mentioned the car making any unusual sound similar to a car stalling and restarting. Bartz did ask both withnesses about sounds the car made:
Bartz: When, for the second hit, did the car make any sound?
Witness 9.12: No. No unusual sound, no.
Witness 9.12:: It was just, ah, no there was no… and again, no. Not an unusual sound from the car at all, just the… I mean he hit him. Full on, he hit him. There’s no doubt about it. He hit this guy. And, ah…
Bartz: Um-hmn. Did you hear anything? Any sounds the car made or uh?
Witness 9.13: Ah yes. It was like when its (sound effect) taking off. But no words. Again, I did not hear any words. The only words I heard throughout the whole thing were the first ones.
After waiting three minutes to phone 911, it is quite possible that Michael Bryant’s 911 call could be viewed as a careful description of a narrative intended to portray himself as a victim of an attack and robbery that conflicts with eyewitness statements and surveillance video. Bryant has stated that at that time he did not think there were any eyewitnesses and he certainly did not know about the videos. After he gained knowledge of surveillance video and witness statements, his narrative was revised to include the necessary new detail that his car stalled when he slammed on the brakes twice.
Three minutes to explain 28 seconds.