08/23/2016 04:48 EDT | Updated 08/24/2017 01:12 EDT

Family devastated: Calgary officer who fatally shot son won't be charged

CALGARY — The parents of a man shot dead by Calgary police while he was holding a syringe in a hotel room say they're devastated the officer won't be charged and they'll keep fighting to ensure another family does not have to endure a similar tragedy.

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team initially found there were grounds to charge the officer in the March 2015 death of Anthony Heffernan, but the Crown later determined a conviction would be unlikely, so it decided that no charges would be laid.

"This is a very, very sad day for all of Albertans and Canadians alike," said Heffernan's father, Pat. "We've had a young man murdered by the Calgary police and it's being swept under the rug."

Heffernan, who was 27, was shot four times — twice in the head — in his room at a Super 8 hotel near the city's airport.

His father called it a "needless act" and says it shows people can't trust the police.

"There is no justice in this case. Anthony is dead and anyone else who comes into contact with police is at tremendous risk ... because they are going to be supporting each other in whatever needs to be said," Pat Heffernan said.

"We can't bring Anthony back, so our main focus is that changes are made so that this does not happen to another poor soul and this does not happen to another family."

The family is "completely devastated," said Heffernan's mother, Irene.

"We really actually thought in the last 17 months that clear and just thinking would prevail, but it didn't."

Pat Heffernan described his youngest son, who was a journeyman electrician, as fun-loving and hard working.

A fatality inquiry will be done to examine what could have been done differently, but Heffernan's family wonders whether police will follow through on its recommendations.

ASIRT said hotel staff called police when Heffernan failed to check out of his room and, when officers arrived, they found him holding a syringe in one hand and flicking a lighter with the other.

He appeared to be in a drug-induced state.

"All of the witness officers stated concerns about the possibility that the syringe might be contaminated and that they might get stabbed or stuck by it," ASIRT said in the release.

"Although the officers commanded him to drop the syringe, he remained unresponsive, non-communicative, and seemingly unaware."

One police officer fired a Taser at Heffernan but it didn't work. As a second officer was preparing to hit Heffernan again with a Taser, another officer fired his gun six times.

"The subject officer made a quick decision in a volatile and rapidly unfolding situation to use his service firearm in order to defend against Mr. Heffernan," said a statement from the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service.

"In all of these circumstances, it could not be disproven that the subject officer acted upon a reasonable belief that he and the other officers were at risk of serious or grievous bodily harm, and that his use of force was necessary."

ASIRT said the syringe — without a needle tip — was recovered from underneath Heffernan's right shoulder after he died. 

An autopsy found marks to his body that were consistent with a history of intravenous drug use and toxicology tests revealed significant levels of cocaine in his system, ASIRT also said.

Police chief Roger Chaffin said the force deals with thousands of mental health and addiction related calls a year and most are resolved by getting help for those who need it.

"This, however, is of no consolation to anyone involved in this case, including members of the Heffernan family," he said.  

"As such, we are working toward a significantly bolstered mental health strategy when dealing with our vulnerable population with an aim to always ensure that we are providing the best and most appropriate service given the circumstances we are faced with."

The officer who shot Heffernan is currently on administrative duty. An internal investigation is underway and consequences could include the officer's dismissal.

Heffernan's family is pushing for Calgary police officers to wear body cameras — something Chaffin said the service is committed to introducing.

"Those cameras would help us understand better what was going on and what people are seeing, particularly in these sort of chaotic environments."

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