Friday, August 31 will be the 9th anniversary of the night Michael Bryant attacked and killed Darcy Allan Sheppard. “Eyewitnesses to a killing” is another excerpt from Jennifer Wells’ e-book, “Lost Boy: The Death of Darcy Allan Sheppard”
Let’s start with the criminal defence attorney turned “special prosecutor” who made the case in court to withdraw charges against his fellow attorney, former Attorney General of Ontario and current executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Michael Bryant.
As Richard Peck said in his address to the court, “Eyewitnesses see different things.” In a telephone interview in mid-August, Peck, a B.C. criminal lawyer appointed as special prosecutor by the Attorney General of Ontario, discussed the reliability of the witness accounts in this case. “There were quite disparate accounts of what happened from eyewitnesses or alleged eyewitnesses,” he says. “There were at least a dozen and they were quite disparate in terms of what they saw, or purported to see, the speeds, the interactions, all those types of things.” No one witness, he pointed out in his address to the court, appeared to observe the events from start to finish. Mark Sandler, a Toronto lawyer appointed counsel for the Crown in this case, was also present on the call. “As is often the case when you’ve got a reconstruction of a traffic-related matter, the eyewitness accounts are wildly at variance with each other,” Sandler says. “One has to look at more objective evidence in determining precisely what happened.”
What Peck doesn’t tell you is that the following two eyewitnesses gave consistent reports that match the surveillance videos and forensic evidence. Victoria Switzman is so close to Bryant’s car she can be seen on the surveillance video waving her arms as she screamed at Bryant to stop his attack. No other witnesses dispute the Switzmans’ account. Peck and Sandler did not interview the Switzmans’. They did not present any of the Switzmans’ eyewitness accounts in court. Instead, they paraphrased statements from witnesses who did not see anything until they HEARD Michael Bryant ram his car into Darcy Allan Sheppard, knock him on the hood of his car and scraped Sheppard’s bike at least 22 feet along the road. Sheppard was bleeding. Mark Sandler dismissed this as “moderately slight contact.” For most witnesses, the first thing they saw was Sheppard getting up off the road after Bryant attacked him with his car. Richard Peck also chose not to show the surveillance videos that captured most of Bryant’s attack on Sheppard.
Watch the surveillance video, hear the 911 calls of the eyewitnesses, and watch part of the eyewitness statements. (One day soon these unedited videos will be released in their entirety accompanied by transcripts.)
EYEWITNESSES TO A KILLING
Day’s end, a Monday in July. Victoria Switzman is curled up in an armchair in her century row house near Trinity Bellwoods Park. She apologizes for her slightly shambolic home, which is undergoing renovation, evidenced by the packing boxes at one end of the living room and the absence of a kitchen. There are decorative touches of England, Switzman’s birthplace and residence until eight years ago. On one wall hangs a rug art piece, a hand-hooked Union Flag tribute to the Queen’s Jubilee. On a small table, a figurine depicts a stout handbag-toting Queen offering her trademark wrist-twisting wave. Switzman is bubbly, blond, five-foot-nothing. She launches herself out of her chair, her ballet flats pacing out her recount of what she observed the night Al Sheppard died. Who was where and when. Who did what. What was said.
On the evening of Aug. 31, 2009, Victoria and Steve Switzman headed out for one of those midmarriage let’s-try-to-get-in-shape walks, which they commenced contradictorily by first driving from their home near Summerhill to a metered parking spot near Bloor and Bedford Rd. “We walked down to Bloor St. … all the way through the university and then we came out onto Wellesley and Yonge. We went to Starbucks and then we walked up to Bloor St. and turned left.”
The couple walked along the north side of Bloor. Steve wanted to stop for a cigarette, which, Victoria points out, didn’t fit with her idea of a healthy walk. “Whilst he was lighting it,” she says, then restarting. “OK, I’m just going to demonstrate. Say that’s the road,” she says, pointing at the floor in front of her. “For some reason I walked right up to the road here. So I’m standing right at the edge of the road.”
“The road” was Bloor St. W. between Bay and Avenue Rd. The backdrop was brightly lit — the retail glow from Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn. “I was standing there, right at the edge of the road there, and suddenly the car and the bike are in front of me.”
The light at the midblock crosswalk was red. In the middle of the westbound lane, at the light, was a cyclist on a bike, facing west. Half a car length behind the bike was a convertible — she was not sure of the make — with a male driver and woman passenger. “They were both stationary,” she says of the bike and the car. “When the lights turned green the person on the bike turned around and said to the driver of the car, ‘So you want me to move now, don’t you?’ ” She describes the cyclist’s tone as taunting.
What Switzman saw, what she would tell police in her witness statement, was that “the car started banging the back of the bike.”
At one point, she says, the bike dropped between the cyclist’s legs. He righted it. The driver of the car was stone-faced. “He’s inching forward and he’s banging the back of the bike … I started shouting at the car, ‘Stop it. Stop it. You’re being an idiot.’ ” She says she yelled at the driver that she was going to call the police.
She reached into her silver slouch bag and retrieved her husband’s phone, which she handed to him. It was with that phone, she says, that Steve Switzman called 911. “I was shouting ‘I’m calling the police’ because I wanted him (the driver of the car) to know this was not appropriate behaviour.”
Switzman says the one-sentence taunt — “So you want me to move now, don’t you?” — were the only words she heard from the courier. The driver of the car was silent. “The next thing I know he puts down his foot and he drives like the guy isn’t even there, so the cyclist …. went over the top of the car, the hood of the car.”
She then describes the cyclist taking off his backpack, which she says he chucked in her direction. He ran toward the driver’s side of the car. “You know, I would have run after him,” she says of Sheppard’s sprinting reaction. “You don’t just run someone over and then drive off.”
The scene, she says, was like something out of the movies, a stunt chase. It was over in seconds.
The car headed southwest into the oncoming lane. Construction vans situated in the middle of Bloor prevented the Switzmans from seeing the moment when Al Sheppard was dislodged from the side of Michael Bryant’s car by the side cap jutting out from a curbside fire hydrant.
Victoria picked up the backpack. She says she struggled as she attempted to push the road bike toward the south pavement. “I could not push it across the road so I was kind of like carrying it,” she says.
She next describes seeing Sheppard on the roadway, his legs partially on the south-side pavement. “I’m looking at him and then someone from behind gave me the mobile phone and said, “Can you talk to the police?” She says the police asked her whether the man on the pavement was alive. There was an awful lot of blood. “I said the car has just driven off. The person in the car, I said they just drove off and left him here.”
In the days and weeks and months that followed Sheppard’s death, Victoria Switzman kept her silence, anticipating that she would be called upon by investigators and attorneys. That never happened. She feels an injustice has been done. “That’s kind of my madness,” she says. “I get very upset. It’s ridiculous.”
At quarter past 11, the morning of Sept. 1, 2009, Steve Switzman seated himself at a round table in a sparsely appointed interview room at 51 Division on Parliament St. In the videotaped witness statement, Switzman appears as an attractive man in middle age with a slight paunch, thus the couple’s walking regimen.
Across from him sat Det. Const. Hannah Bartz and her partner, Thao Vo. Thao took notes. Bartz led off the questioning with a relaxed, “OK, Steve, if you can just start by telling us what you observed.”
And so began Switzman’s 45-minute statement given the morning following the death of Darcy Allan Sheppard. He locates the scene for the detectives, the bright lights on the Mink Mile. He had walked there with his wife. It was a nice night.
“There at the stoplight was a car and a bicyclist, a cyclist, and uh, and they were stopped at the lights and the first thing that I certainly noticed was the cyclist, was my first image as I recall was pulling up in front of the car and had a smile on his face, the cyclist did. You know, not a smile saying I’m happy, uh, you know, just a I’m going to piss you off type of smile to the driver and pulled his bike right in front of the hood, blocking his way.”
“So, the guy was, the cyclist as I said was right in front of the car and I didn’t see, I didn’t know if the lights had changed, but certainly the car then moved forward very slowly onto his back wheel. (He would later describe this as a “nudge.”) And, uh, the cyclist fell off his bike …. He got up, picked up his bike, got on his bike again and for some reason, the car then accelerates at a very high speed and knocked the fella onto his, onto the front of his car …. So he hit him. He hit him full on at high speed.”
Switzman clears his throat here. At one point in the interview, he struggles for composure. Const. Bartz steps out of the video frame to retrieve a roll of toilet paper, which she places in front of the witness.
“The cyclist obviously fell off the car and fell onto the driver’s side of the car. The bike then was in the middle of the road. The guy got up and the car started to move and the cyclist ran after the car.”
Switzman repeatedly notes the “surreal” passivity of the driver and his passenger throughout the encounter. When Bartz directs him again to review the sequence of events he becomes unclear as to whether the cyclist did or did not actually fall off his bike after the “nudge.” Asked to describe the style of driving, he responds, “I think, I mean. It’s almost broken down in stages, right? I think the first time when he nudged his tire it was like, look, you ass, this is, uh, you know, I’m doing this to show you, sort of thing, and then after that it was, you know, I mean, I mean he hit the guy. He, he, as far as I’m concerned, and I’ll say it anywhere, he purposely hit that guy. And ah and as far as I’m concerned he could have, like all of us I’m as bad as anyone else in terms of you know, getting frustrated with people on the road, but you know you make a decision at a point in time where you can either, you know, but he had an opportunity, he certainly had an opportunity that second time to, it’s not like the guy ran in front of the car to be hit by the car. He hit him full on.”
When asked to estimate speed, Switzman replied: “Well, from putting your foot on the gas to at that point in time, 30 kilometres an hour, 40 kilometres an hour, perhaps.”
The interview is concluded upon Switzman’s statement that he has answered truthfully, to the best of his ability.
Seven minutes after the interview’s conclusion, Switzman’s wife, Victoria, takes the same seat in the same statement room with the same cops.
Const. Bartz asks her to describe what she means by the “tormenting” behaviour of the cyclist when he pulled in front of the Saab. “It wasn’t aggressive, actually. That was the strange thing about the whole thing. He wasn’t screaming. He wasn’t swearing. He literally was in front of him, laughing at the driver saying, ‘You want me to move now, do you?’ kind of thing. And they were the only words I heard him say. I didn’t hear him say anything else after that. And the driver never said a word.”
Eyewitness Statements and 911 calls
Darcy Allan Sheppard’s Last Words: “You are all witnesses to this”
Construction workers describe Michael Bryant’s Road Rage