Killed Ontario gunsmith’s family sues Toronto police for $ 23 million

Rodger Kotanko had just returned to his rural home and workshop in Simcoe, Ont., A short drive west of Port Dover, near Lake Erie, after doing some shopping with his wife, Jessie. She had just passed a driving test and needed a little encouragement.

The gunsmith’s workshop, a detached garage, was where Kotanko looked after firearms from loyal customers – police officers and soldiers among them. The garage sits at the end of a driveway, lined on one side in the summer with towering sunflower plants that Kotanko would never see again.

On November 3, just before noon, a customer was waiting when Kotanko entered the workshop, probably unaware that Toronto police were seeing him.

Until now, what was known through official channels through the Special Investigations Unit press releases is that officers were there to carry out a search warrant, and Kotanko was shot and killed by an officer. Seven other officers have been named as witnesses to the events, which have raised many questions in a community where Kotanko was respected.

Among them, what were Toronto police so interested in that they had honed a 70-year-old father of three, about two hours and a large lake away from the big city?

Documents with search warrants opened at Star’s request reveal why.

In short, police believed Kotanko had milled the serial numbers of two restricted handguns registered to his company and, without permission, transferred their ownership, with the guns eventually ending up in the hands of two young Toronto residents.

Kotanko’s family has also obtained the search warrant documents and on Tuesday announced a $ 23 million wrongful death lawsuit with allegations, the family said in a press release that Toronto police “illegally carried out a search warrant and used excessive force … in a military-style take down. , ”Shoots him four times.

The family claims in their lawsuit that the search warrant was not presented on the day of the raid, that the information used to obtain the verdict “was obtained using irrelevant and harmful information” and was “designed to undermine (Kotanko’s) credibility and stand before the judge or judge of peace and the public. “

Police “ruthlessly targeted” Kotanko and the operation was “negligently planned,” the family said in the press release.

The family also claims that Kotanko’s wife was illegally detained and detained by police and prevented from “giving him comfort after he was shot and was dying.”

The family’s allegation, filed this week, names five unidentified officers with the Toronto Police Integrated Gun and Band Task Force, an inspector in charge of the task force, Chief James Ramer and the Toronto Police Services Board as defendants.

“The Kotanko family is holding Toronto police accountable so this does not happen to anyone else,” the family’s lawyer, Michael Smitiuch, said in the press release. “Rodger Kotanko was not able to defend himself or his reputation, but so will his family.”

The allegations have not been proven in court and police have not yet filed a defense document.

Toronto police on Tuesday admitted to having received a copy of the allegation from Star, but a police response was not immediately available. The police board did not immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment.

Once a civilian-led SIU investigation is underway, police typically do not comment on a case.

The application for a 28-page search warrant, called an “information to obtain” or ITO – a document submitted to a judge to seek permission for a search warrant – provides a very easily edited account of the reasons for the police raid. The Star is scheduled to appear in court in late February to contest a police request to have the names of officers and civilian employees removed from the material.

Otherwise, Star is free to report the content, which includes details of the investigation that led police to Rodger Kotanko’s garage.

Rodger Kotanko's locked garage.  The gunsmith was working in the garage when he was shot by Toronto police while executing a warrant.

The handguns

In late August 2021, a young person crashed into a stolen Mercedes on Victoria Park Road and Finch Avenue East in Toronto, resulting in the arrest and seizure of a Norinco 1911A1 .45 caliber pistol, according to the ITO.

Two months later, on October 10, officers at the North Bay Police Service investigated a “possible kidnapping” as they drove over a vehicle with three men, all with Toronto addresses. One of the men, a young man, was allegedly found in possession of the same brand gun.

In both cases, it appears from the document that the serial numbers of the weapons appeared to have been removed by a milling machine, as did other markings on the sliders of the firearms.

According to the ITO, the police were able to recover the serial numbers, finding that the weapons had been registered to DARK International Trading Company, one of two companies owned by Kotanko, the other company was RK Custom Guns.

The marks on the slides were also restored to reveal italic “RK” letters on both, and “RK Custom” on the North Bay pistol.

A ‘savant’ pistol

In 1970, when Rodger Kotanko was only 19, he received a criminal record for “possession of a drug” for human trafficking and for possessing a “limited unregistered firearm”, which he served for nine months, according to police database searches detailed in the ITO.

After that, Kotanko had no other criminal record.

For his part, Kotanko’s family says the “drug” was cannabis, and the gun, a black powder gun Kotanko had made – the kind, said Brother Jeff Kotanko, as you would see in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie.

“I’m not even sure the gun fired,” said younger sister Suzanne Kantor.

Kotanko had gone to forest school at the time. The prosecution interrupted it. But he clearly had a gift of firearms.

Kotanko gained a reputation for custom builds and reliability. He could charge as much as $ 7,000 for a custom handgun, and customers lined up for them, including rival shooters and military customers, said Jeff, who also worked with this brother.

“He was a gunman,” he said.

Rodger Kotanko also loved adventure, and was for a time a competitive parachutist and taught on the Simcoe runway.

Most recently, Kotanko – as Kantor said, stood perhaps five-foot-six, moved “like a sloth” and loved to talk – worked on his diet. He lived for family and family dinners, including Christmas time. While his wife Jessie, who came to Canada from China four years ago, tended the garden behind the house, Kotanko was able to make pickles from what Jessie grew.

“He is not a person you would fear at all. He is a 70-year-old man who was on the endless diet and trying to live healthy, had undergone bypass heart surgery,” Kantor said. “He loved pickled beets. “He loved pickled peppers. The hotter the peppers, the better.”

Rodger Kotanko was shot and killed on November 3, 2021 in a police raid in Toronto at his home in Simcoe, Ont.  and the gunsmith workshop.

Twenty-five handguns

According to the police ITO, Kotanko – an experienced and licensed gunsmith with a certificate to acquire unrestricted, restricted and prohibited firearms – notified the Ontario Chief Firearms Office in March 2009 that he was importing 25 Norinco 1911A1 .45 caliber pistol frames that he would make working firearms, with new serial numbers that he correctly reported.

The serial numbers of the guns ranged from RKC01 to RKC025. “RKC” stood for Rodger Kotanko Custom, and italic branding was also added to the slides.

After the two seizures, police checks at the weapons office showed that 14 of the 25 weapons were still registered with DARK, including the seized weapons, which bore the serial numbers RKC04 and RKC014, and were to be stored at Kotanko’s address.

In the search warrant, the officer who drafted the document noted the length of Kotanko’s career in firearms and that he had “legally purchased, sold, manufactured and successfully transferred hundreds of firearms over the years” and that he wanted to know all the rules surrounding notification of lost or stolen firearms and transfers.

As a gunsmith, the officer also said Kotanko would have access to tools, including possibly a milling machine. The officer also believed that Kotanko “would also be one of the few people who would have an interest in milling the name of his company from a firearm sold to the criminal market, along with the serial number.”

Based on that, the officer formed the belief that Kotanko was transferring the weapons without permission. That belief formed the basis of the search warrant. On November 3, Judge James Chaffe of Ontario authorized a three-week period to search Kotanko’s home, beginning the same day.

Kotanko’s brother Jeff questions the logic of police thinking. First, he said, Kotanko of all people would have known that you can not effectively remove a serial number unless you remove a piece of metal. Second, why should his brother make a criminal gun when he can pick up $ 7,000 for a special gun?

Jeff’s theory is that the handguns had recently been legally transferred and that the firearms computers had not obtained the transactions. He recalled that his brother mentioned that a man was looking to buy a pair of handguns for him and his son. A logbook kept by Kotanko was seized during the raid and would be the place where his brother kept information about authorized transfers, Jeff said.

So well, every few years, Jeff said, the Chief Firearm Officer performed checks to make sure all the many firearms that Kotanko kept on site were accounted for. The last pre-pandemic check found nothing wrong, Jeff said.

The raid

Kotanko’s wife failed her driving test the morning the raid took place. Kotanko had bought a car for her to help her socialize, and he worked on his Cantonese. Disappointed with the failure, the two went shopping.

While he was out, a customer called and said he was coming past the store.

Police were nearby when Kotanko returned home, and the customer and Kotanko were in the garage when the raid went down. Police, the family notes in their statement of claim, arrived with their own ambulance in tow.

The gunsmith was killed at a place where Kotanko, in the words of Sister Kantor, loved to “shoot s —” with customers over Tim Horton’s coffee while working on their weapons. It was also a pace where he had loved to debate with Kantor’s daughter, who had died suddenly of a heart problem just nine months earlier.

Among the family’s questions: Why wait until Kotanko had returned to his shop, where his hands are on arms almost all the time?

“We do not understand,” Kantor said. “It was not like he was an evil person. He just was not. We just want answers. It’s scary to think that can happen.”

SIU’s investigation into the killing continues.

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