It has been a mystery for nearly two years — who was the customer with Rodger Kotanko when the Norfolk County gunsmith was shot dead by Toronto police in November 2021?

A man identified only as “C.W.” has come forward, claiming to be the customer who saw four bullets tear into Kotanko moments after officers burst into the 70-year-old gunsmith’s home workshop west of Port Dover.

In a $2.6-million lawsuit filed against Toronto police and the Kotanko estate on Aug. 18, C.W. claims he has suffered “extreme mental distress and emotional harm” since witnessing the killing.

C.W. alleges the ordeal has limited his ability to work, do chores, and socialize with family and friends because of post-traumatic stress disorder, nightmares, physical pain and “mental anguish, shock and profound grief.”

The lawsuit was brought against the Toronto police services board, the chief of police, the inspector of the guns and gangs unit, and five officers who executed the weapons search warrant at Kotanko’s shop.

C.W. alleges officers “acted with reckless indifference” and knowingly put him at grave risk of injury or death by allowing him to enter the workshop before they confronted Kotanko.

None of the allegations have been tested in court and no statements of defence have been filed.

A Toronto Police spokesperson declined to comment as the matter is before the courts.

According to the statement of claim, C.W. was making his second visit to Kotanko’s shop for repairs to his Norinco .45-calibre pistol.

C.W. claims he called Kotanko on Nov. 2, 2021, and arranged to meet him the next morning, but Kotanko was more than an hour late.

The claim alleges C.W. waited in Kotanko’s driveway in clear view of Toronto police officers, who made no move to intercept him or warn him about the pending raid. 

Once the two men were inside the shop, officers allegedly burst in with guns drawn and ordered Kotanko and C.W. to raise their hands, which C.W. did “immediately,” according to the claim.

Kotanko, however, allegedly turned toward the officers, still holding C.W.’s pistol, whose magazine had been removed. The gunsmith allegedly ignored “repeated” demands to drop the weapon.

One officer then fired four shots at Kotanko, “knocking him off his chair and onto his back,” the claim alleges.

According to the claim, the officer who shot Kotanko “then trained his gun on C.W. and barked the order, ‘Don’t you move a f—ing muscle. If you do, you’re dead.’”

A “visibly shaking” C.W. was allegedly marched out of the shop and handcuffed while face down on the ground, and left cuffed on the porch beside Kotanko’s wife, Xuepin Mai, who had been out grocery shopping with her husband.

The officers “demonstrated little compassion and offered no comfort or solace” to Mai or C.W., the claim alleges, adding officers used “unnecessary and excessive” force throughout the operation, causing “significant mental injury to C.W. and the death of Kotanko.”

‘Sinister aspect’

C.W. is also suing the Kotanko estate, arguing the gunsmith’s actions during the raid — and his alleged involvement in weapons trafficking that brought police to his door — created a dangerous situation for himself and his customer.

According to search warrant documents, two handguns registered to Kotanko had been seized during separate police investigations. The serial numbers of the guns had been “professionally” removed with a milling machine.

Kotanko had not reported the guns stolen or missing, and one of the weapons was allegedly used in a murder in Scarborough in July 2021.

C.W.’s lawyer, Kevin Egan of London-based law firm McKenzie Lake, said his client is withholding his full name — and those of his children — because he is afraid of attracting attention.

“In the media, we’ve seen reports that not only was Mr. Kotanko’s family interested in identifying my client, but other interested parties — a private investigations group and a citizens group — (were) asking questions,” Egan told The Spectator.

Egan said the shooting has left his client in a “vulnerable psychiatric condition.”

“This man has suffered a very significant traumatic event. It’s inconceivable, having to stand there while police blow a guy away, and see it all happen,” Egan said.

“So in the interest of preserving, as much as we can, his sense of safety, we’ve elected to identify him by initials, as is allowed in the rules of civil procedure.”

As part of the $2.6-million claim, C.W.’s three adult children are each suing for $200,000 in “loss of care, guidance and companionship and other support” their father is allegedly no longer able to provide thanks to his injuries.

Egan said the aim of the lawsuit is to seek restitution for a police operation described in the statement of claim as “a gross and negligent misuse of power.”

“Our objective is to hold those responsible answerable to my client,” Egan said.

This is not the only active lawsuit connected to Kotanko’s death. In January 2022, the gunsmith’s family sued Toronto Police for $23 million, accusing officers of “negligent” planning and use of excessive force.

In a statement of defence filed that September, the Toronto police services board called Kotanko “the author of his own misfortune,” arguing his actions inside the shop — namely not dropping C.W.’s gun when ordered to — left officers with no choice but to use lethal force.

That was the conclusion reached by the Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit, which includes interviews with a witness that was inside the shop.

The SIU exonerated the officer who shot Kotanko, saying he acted in self-defence.

By J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Aug 31, 2023 at 07:12

This item reprinted with permission from   The Spectator   Hamilton, Ontario
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