2004 standoff role leads to Toronto officer of the year nomination

by Mary Riley Downtown Toronto has long been a popular location for Hollywood filmmakers, but the events of August 25, 2004 were no movie.
Early that morning, Tony Brookes lay in wait for his estranged wife in the Toronto Dominion food court as she made her way to work.

When she appeared, he fired three shots from a sawed-off, .22-caliber rifle, grazing her skull. She dropped like a stone, and Mr. Brookes walked up to her prone body and beat her unconscious with the weapon.

He then fled the concourse, and ran onto Wellington Street.

Lindsay resident and Toronto Police Staff Sergeant Tom Sharkey and his Emergency Task Force (ETF) team didn't yet know they would soon be called to one of Toronto's most tense hostage situations.

S/Sgt. Sharkey and two constables, division officer Jeff MacDuff and ETF squad member Gordon Lusby, were all involved in the highly charged incident. They are among 12 Toronto officers nominated for 2005 Police Officer of the Year. The award winner was announced at an event last evening.

Speaking from his home on Wednesday, the officer, who has spent 20 of his 31 years in policing as an ETF team member, instructor and hostage negotiator ruffled his young son's hair and grumbled good- naturedly about the mess created from renovations.

"It'll be great when it's done, but I can't stand it right now."

The officer operates and teaches at the Ranger Jiu- jitsu martial arts club in Lindsay and enjoys family life with his wife, Marianne and their three kids.

He continued the story that would lead to him having to give the order to shoot Tony Brookes. "(Constable) Jeff MacDuff heard the report of the shots and the description after Brookes shot his ex-wife," he said. "When Brookes ran out on the street, Jeff recognized him. He was only a few meters away and there were people everywhere; it was rush hour. Brookes pointed his rifle at Jeff, and Jeff drew his gun. So, the two of them are facing each other, just meters away with all these people in between, going on their way as if nothing was happening.

But, it was weird; because they make movies in Toronto all the time, I think people who might have seen what was going on thought it was a movie and just carried on with their routine.

That was probably a good thing, because if they realized it was real, we could have had panic."

Mr. Brookes ignored the officer's order to stop and took off running towards Front Street. Const. MacDuff gave chase, calling for backup and the ETF.

When he reached Union Station, Mr. Brookes grabbed a young woman, 20-year-old Nicole Regis and put the barrel of his rifle to her head.

"When we arrived," said S/Sgt. Sharkey, "Brookes had held Nicole for 20 minutes. But, he wouldn't talk to us. We are highly trained to handle every kind of hostage situation; you have to find the 'hook;' the common thread between you and the suspect. Some situations can be resolved in a few minutes; others take hours. Most end peacefully and without anyone getting hurt.

"But, this situation was unique in that it was rush hour, with thousands of people going to work and it could have been disastrous. And, Brookes wouldn't talk. Every time I tried to talk to him, his answer was to point the rifle at me."

S/Sgt. Sharkey said Ms Regis, the daughter of a judge, was "phenomenal" during the standoff.

"She was incredible. No one knew what this guy was going to do. But, she stayed very calm and quiet. Her behavior certainly helped keep the situation from getting worse. If she had been hysterical, there's no telling how he might have reacted."

The officer, who lectures across Canada, training officers in ETF units, estimates he's had more than 1,000 calls to high-risk situations in his career. He leads one of six SWAT teams in Toronto, each composed of nine officers. Each team responds to about 100 calls every year.

He said the Union Station incident did not end the way he wanted. But, after 18 minutes, Mr. Brookes alternated between pointing the rifle at the officers and Ms Regis' head.

S/Sgt. Sharkey, whose men were already hidden in key positions around the suspect, ordered the sniper to fire.

"Brookes was becoming more erratic," he said. "He'd had Nicole by this time for about 40 minutes and the situation was not getting better. It was only a matter of time before he killed her, an officer or someone else."

Const. Lusby fired one shot from a distance of about 20 meters, killing Mr. Brookes instantly.

S/Sgt. Sharkey said the ETF, while only called in to high-risk situations, is made up of highly qualified officers who are totally committed to their jobs.

"You can't apply to the ETF until you've been an officer for at least five years," he said. "You must pass all kinds of physical and psychological tests; we want maturity and well-adjusted people. We are required to do a 90-minute workout before we start every shift. Because, in our job, every arrest is at gunpoint."

The officer and his family have lived in the Kawartha Lakes area for six years, and he says it's "very relaxing." He loves his job, but he and his wife believe this is a better place to raise their children.

"Tony Brookes abused his wife and children for 20 years; he had a long, previous record," he said. "He was under a court order to stay completely away from them. He didn't know where she lived, but he knew where she worked, and that's how this started. In my experience, a lot of these situations start when the court orders these guys to stay away from their wives and kids to protect them. But, the order to stay away is what makes a lot of them snap, and this can be the result. It's a vicious circle."

What no one knew in the Brookes standoff until later, he said, was that his rifle had jammed. Police discovered there were five live rounds still in the chamber behind an empty cartridge. Whether or not Mr. Brookes knew the gun had jammed, S/Sgt. Sharkey said, no one will ever know.

"We couldn't resolve this situation by talking and negotiating, and we are very highly trained in how to deal with these people. When the situation deteriorates, you have to be prepared to act. There was no other choice."

"We learned a lot from this incident," he went on. "About 40,000 people came into Union Station on the trains that morning, and when security heard there was a hostage taking, they immediately shut the doors. But, they didn't stop the trains, so the people kept coming into the station. We had to contain the scene and about 100 officers from seven divisions were trying to keep the area clear of the bystanders. At the morning rush hour, you can imagine what it was like."

Asked what he thinks of criticism of police shootings, S/Sgt. Sharkey said he finds that the public's attitude towards such incidents is changing.

"There is so much violence now, especially with kids. They're running around with guns as young as 13 years old. We only respond to the really high-risk calls; there's just no way we could answer every call that involves a gun. But, getting the gangs and guns off the streets is a great thing. The people living in these neighborhoods are terrorized.

"You'll always get people who criticize police shootings. Most times, the situation can be resolved by other means, like using a Taser. But, I can tell you, after all my years with the force, the compassion for criminals is waning. People have had enough, and they come up and thank us all the time. The support for police, especially in Toronto, is definitely up."

Asked the same question, Tom Sharkey's wife had the last word.

"Your viewpoint changes when the violence is in your own backyard."