The Independent Investigations Office of BC (IIOBC)has concluded its investigation into the death of a man who was shot by police in the Shuswap in January.
The report from IIOBC, the independent organization charged with investigating injuries and death resulting from interactions with the police, concluded the officers involved were not negligent in their use of tear gas, and there are no reasonable grounds to conclude the officer who shot the driver of a vehicle driving towards him did so unlawfully.
On the evening of Jan. 7, Salmon Arm RCMP officers responded to reports of serious mischief at a rural property north of Shuswap Lake. A witness told police that a trailer parked on the road outside their home had been seriously damaged, apparently struck by an axe or similar implement. Officers tracked a suspect to his residence using footprints in the snow, and when they tried to arrest him he brandished a knife and an axe. The RCMP officers withdrew and called backup including an Emergency Response Team (ERT).
— IIOBC (@iiobc) December 3, 2020
According to the IIOBC report, efforts by ERT officers to negotiate with the suspect in the home were unsuccessful. A warrant was obtained authorizing officers to enter the home and arrest the man. The report states that tear gas was deployed and the suspect exited the home; he attempted to flee the scene in his vehicle before shots were fired and he was fatally wounded.
The man came out of the home three times in the early hours of the morning before trying to flee in his vehicle. He exited briefly with the axe in his hands shortly before 2 a.m., and then came out again about half an hour later to make obscene gestures at police and record video of them using a cell phone. He recorded the officers who initially tried to arrest him using a video camera and both recordings were considered in the IIO investigation.
The suspect exited the building a third time very close to officers who were attempting to deliver a cell phone through a broken window in order to allow them to communicate with him directly. One of the officers, who the report states feared for the safety of the others, fired a ‘less lethal’ 40mm sponge round at the man. Knocked to the ground by the sponge round, the suspect crawled back inside the house.
The man inside the house was unresponsive to attempts by police to communicate with him using the cell phone and from windows broken throughout the incident.
Once the tear gas was deployed through one of the broken windows, the man exited the house and then tried to go back inside. Another officer tried to stop him with a less-lethal round but did not succeed. As the officer was reloading his launcher the man dashed from the house toward his parked vehicle. One of the officers had placed a spike strip beneath its tires earlier in the incident.
Now behind the wheel of his vehicle, the man drove around the house and onto a driveway towards the street. Two officers moved to cut off his flight from the driveway.
Witness reports considered by investigators, which were given by RCMP officers and a civilian witness, describe the vehicle travelling down the driveway towards the two officers at the end. One officer who witnessed the incident estimated its speed at 30 to 40 km/h.
As the vehicle was travelling down the driveway an officer hit it in the windshield with a less lethal round but it did not stop. The IIO report states one of the officers at bottom of the driveway fired his rifle as the vehicle was travelling down the driveway towards him.
Examination of the fleeing vehicle shows it was struck by five bullets. The driver was hit in head, chest and forearm.
The vehicle quickly came to a stop in a snow bank. Officers removed the man from the vehicle and attempted to get him clear of the tear gas spilling from the residence. They began life-saving measures assisted by paramedics but at 3:36 a.m. the man was pronounced dead.
A toxicology report showed the man had no drugs in his system except a very low level of THC, the active ingredient in cannabis.
The report concludes officers took appropriate steps attempting to communicate with the man before tear gas was used. It also found the use of tear gas to force him from the building was appropriate.
Possible errors in not completely immobilizing the vehicle were acknowledged in the report but it found they do not amount to criminal negligence. The report goes on to state that once the man was in the vehicle, officers on foot were in imminent danger of serious harm or death.
The report did not reach a firm conclusion on whether the man behind the wheel of the vehicle was deliberately driving towards the officer who shot him or if he was blinded by darkness and the tear gas. Due to the slippery conditions and snow banks, getting out of the vehicle’s way was potentially hazardous, and it was reasonable for the officer to use his firearm to protect himself.