Can you tell the difference?

Officer confronts teen carrying toy gun; took appropriate action, RNC says

Published on May 6, 2009
Photo at left, Const. Roy Normore (left), holding a Heckler & Koch MP5 machine gun, and Const. Mike Summers, holding an imitation weapon, approach a news conference in front of RNC headquarters Tuesday. The demonstration was held following an incident Monday evening in the Torbay Road area where a mentally delayed teenager was reported to be carrying a firearm. The teen was Justin Ryan (right) and the incident has left his mother Catherine Ryan frightened. - Photos by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

Police say anyone would have had a tough time determining whether this toy gun was the real thing.

But that's what one officer had to do from 120 feet, after two calls came into police headquarters, describing a man with a gun in the area of Torbay Road Monday evening.

Police say anyone would have had a tough time determining whether this toy gun was the real thing.

But that's what one officer had to do from 120 feet, after two calls came into police headquarters, describing a man with a gun in the area of Torbay Road Monday evening.

Two officers prove the difficulty of the task, while standing side by side and holding a real Heckler & Koch MP5 machine gun and the plastic gun taken from the scene Monday evening.

Justin Ryan, an 18-year-old developmentally delayed boy, was playing with the toy gun when the officer approached him with his gun drawn, says his mother Catherine, who says the whole family was shaken by the incident.

"I was here in the house and my next-door neighbour came in and she said, 'You better come out quick. The cops got Justin,'" she says.

Ryan says when she got outdoors her son was on his knees with his hands behind his back.

"I lost it. I said, 'What are you doing? What's on the go?' and I couldn't ... I was just frantic," Ryan says.

"Biggest thing is ... if there had've been nobody around we would have gotten one call saying Justin is dead or he's in jail."

Justin is at the intellectual level of a six- or seven-year-old boy.

"I can't let him go across to the store himself because he's not streetwise," Ryan says.

She says Justin told the officer that the gun was his toy and that he couldn't have it.

She says that was when another boy came running up to the officer saying, "He's delayed, don't shoot him."

Ryan says her son bought the toy gun at a nearby dollar store.

She says it's fine that they couldn't tell that her son was delayed, but says police should have a better way to tell if a gun is a toy or real.

Constabulary spokesman Const. Paul Davis says the officer did exactly as he was trained to in this kind of situation.

"As our officers were responding they were being provided some of the information. ... An officer arrived in a parking lot and observed a person with what appeared to be a machine gun or similar to what's called a Heckler & Koch MP5," Davis says. "These officers know they're responding to a man with a gun."

Davis says despite reports that other children were playing in the area, the officer reported that he and Ryan were the only two in the area.

He says the officer described getting out of his patrol car and starting to repeat instructions to Ryan to drop the gun and back away from it. In fact, his commands can be heard on the 911 tapes Davis played for the media.

It was when the officer got close enough to kick the gun away that he realized that it was plastic.

"I'd suggest to you that looking at that quickly ... that it can be difficult for a police officer at 120 feet away to make a clear and definite conclusion as to what he's dealing with," Davis says, explaining that the officer said Ryan appeared to be a mature man carrying a gun.

"He has to deal with it as if it's real until he determines differently."

Davis says the officer then holstered his own gun and started talking with the boy's family and others who had made their way outside.

Ryan says the officer then said "'Listen here lady, you needs to calm down,' he said. 'A few minutes later and I was about to shoot him.'"

"It was a very charged situation and people were upset," Davis says, adding that the officer denies saying those things.

Davis says the officer did apologize to the family at the scene, but that no formal apology has been issued because the officer didn't do anything wrong.

"In our community today it's not unusual for you to hear police reports of instances that involve firearms guns and violence. We don't know where we're going, when it is, what time of day it doesn't matter. He was faced with what he was faced with, he acted appropriately and he dealt with it appropriately."

amorrissey@thetelegram.com