When Toronto police raided the workshop of renowned gunsmith Rodger Kotanko in November 2021 and shot him to death, questions swirled.
But while some details have since emerged, a few questions have remained: who was the lone customer inside the workshop during the raid that day in rural southern Ontario? And, what does that witness say happened?
A recently filed $2.6 million lawsuit sheds some light on that mystery.
A statement of claim filed in London Superior Court by a man using the initials C.W., says both Toronto police and Kotanko put him in an unnecessarily dangerous situation and have traumatized him for life.
Kevin Egan, the man’s lawyer, told CBC Hamilton his client is using the initials because of all the media attention the case has received and speculation he was a police informant or undercover officer.
The lawsuit names five “John Doe” officers, as well as Insp. Norman Proctor, Chief James Ramer and the Toronto Police Services (TPS) Board for their involvement in the raid.
TPS and the board both declined to comment on the lawsuit and the claims within it. Mike Smitiuch, the Kotanko family’s lawyer, told CBC Hamilton the lawsuit focuses on Toronto police and bolsters the family’s position.
Kotanko’s family is also suing Toronto police for $23 million over the deadly raid, while the TPS board is standing its ground, saying Kotanko didn’t keep track of his guns, didn’t store them properly and illegally sold them.
None of the claims have been tested in court, but the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), Ontario’s police watchdog, published a report which found “no reasonable grounds to believe” the officer who shot Kotanko broke the law. It also noted the customer and police both said Kotanko didn’t obey officers’ commands before being shot.
Police never warned customer about raid, claim states
The statement of claim says C.W. had bought a pistol, but had issues with the gun jamming.
Someone told him to call Kotanko and he first met the gunsmith in October, 2021.
Kotanko owned D.A.R.K. International Trading Co. Inc., which imports guns and gun parts, and R.K. Custom Guns, which offers gunsmithing and gun deactivation.
He operated out of his gunsmithing workshop on Port Ryerse Road in Norfolk County, right next to his home, and was licensed. People who knew him say he was renowned for his work.
On Nov. 2, the man set up another appointment with Kotanko and they agreed to meet the next day.
The man states he was waiting in his vehicle outside of Kotanko’s home and gunsmithing workshop for over an hour. Kotanko and his wife were reportedly out shopping.
Before Kotanko returned from shopping, police arrived in unmarked vehicles according to the SIU’s report — but the man states officers never approached him or warned him about the impending raid.
“The police had an opportunity to approach him on the road or in the driveway … to help him not be involved,” Egan said.
Search warrant documents previously obtained by CBC News show police raided Kotanko’s property to investigate why two guns with obliterated serial numbers registered to Kotanko were found at a crime scene in Toronto and another in North Bay, Ont. They allege he illegally removed those serial numbers and sold the firearms, but Kotanko’s family denies this.
In his statement of claim, the customer says he planned on leaving his gun with Kotanko and returning later, but Kotanko convinced him to stay, saying the repair wouldn’t take long.
The man stayed and entered the workshop with Kotanko — a small, seemingly inconsequential decision at the time, one that has now changed his life forever, he says.
Kotanko started fixing the disassembled gun and the door to the workshop was left open, according to the claim.
That’s when the man says officers burst through the doorway, without warning.
Officers shouted and ordered the man and Kotanko to raise their hands, according to the claim.
The man says he did, but Kotanko wouldn’t put his hands up, prompting officers to shoot him four times.
“The best way to describe it is excessive. They killed a man right in front of my client and I think any of us would be shocked to see something like that,” Egan said.
“The police had an opportunity to negotiate a surrender or do something else than to burst in guns blazing.”
The man say he was “manually pulled and forced” face down, with his hands cuffed behind his back.
The claim says he was “visibly shaking uncontrollably.”
‘An innocent bystander’
The man is suing police for a “misuse of power … reckless indifference … and [for killing] Kotanko when there was no need to do so,” the claim states.
Egan said Kotanko’s family is also being sued because of the gunsmith’s actions.
“He invites my client into a building in which that criminal activity appears to be centered and exposes him to danger,” Egan said.
Smitiuch, the Kotanko family’s lawyer, denied claims Kotanko was involved in illegal activity in the past and says the customer’s lawsuit is suing Kotanko’s family as an alternative.
“The emphasis in that lawsuit is clearly on the Toronto police and action or inaction they took, allowing customer to get in the workshop and in that situation,” Smitiuch said.
“The allegations in the customer’s claim bolster our position that Rodger was working on an inoperable gun and attempting to fix it. It also reinforces the position of the family that police completely botched this raid and many steps they could’ve taken to avoid bloodshed.”
Egan said his client is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, nightmares and deep abdominal pain.
The claim says the man has lost income since the shooting and has had to undergo continued mental health treatment.
“He’s triggered every time I try to talk to him about it … he saw a man get blown up by police, feet away from him, and then the police turned on him and threatened him with being shot dead as well,” Egan said.
“He’s just an innocent bystander who ended up … facing a threat of being shot to death.”