On Oct. 19, 2017, the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) was directed to investigate the circumstances surrounding an officer-involved shooting that resulted in the death of a 37-year-old man that same day near Bashaw.
ASIRT’s investigation was comprehensive and thorough, using current best investigative practices.
ASIRT interviewed all relevant police and civilian witnesses, including the involved officers who provided voluntary statements.
The available evidence also included significant-high-quality security video from a nearby rural residence and in-car video from the three RCMP vehicles on the scene.
At about 7:40 a.m. that day, RCMP received a complaint that a heavy-duty Ford 250 truck had been stolen from the Keyera Nevis Gas Plant.
Shortly thereafter, RCMP received a report of a suspicious vehicle parked on Range Road 235, south of Highway 11.
The description of the vehicle, including the licence plate, matched the description of the vehicle that had been reported stolen.
At about 9:21 a.m., three officers in full uniform and in marked police vehicles arrived on scene to find the stolen vehicle parked, with a man who appeared to be asleep in the driver’s seat.
The three officers made a plan to arrest the man that involved placing a spike belt under the vehicle and arranging their vehicles to block the truck.
A quick look inside the vehicle revealed what appeared to be a used syringe on the console.
One of the officers opened the driver’s door, touched the man, and told him he was under arrest.
The man stirred just as the officer grabbed his hand to apply handcuffs.
The man resisted.
He was again told that he was under arrest and ordered not to move.
The man tried to get the Ford in gear.
When the officer dealing with the man tried to reach in and grab the keys to turn off the Ford, he found there were no keys in the ignition.
The man reached for the gearshift and a physical struggle ensued.
Because the man was wearing his seatbelt, the officer was unable to pull him from the vehicle.
The officers heard the engine revving as the man suddenly put the vehicle into reverse.
While two of the officers were able to jump out of harm’s way, the other officer was caught between the vehicle and the open driver’s door and began being dragged by the vehicle.
The Ford backed up rapidly and reversed hard into the marked RCMP vehicle that had been parked behind it.
The Ford continued to accelerate and push the RCMP vehicle in reverse, while the speed and force of the Ford and the position of the driver’s door trapped the officer in place.
The officer believed he was going to fall or get pulled underneath the truck and be seriously injured or killed.
All three officers were yelling for the man to stop the vehicle, which he failed to do.
The trapped officer tried to jump away from the vehicle but continued to be pinned by the door.
As the Ford reversed, the officer who had been in front of the vehicle was unable to see his colleague’s upper body.
Fearing for the officer’s life and safety, he fired three rounds from his carbine.
At the same time, the trapped officer pushed himself away from the door of the Ford and fortunately fell far enough away to avoid being caught underneath the undercarriage and wheels of the quickly moving heavy-duty truck.
The third officer also fired a round from his service pistol.
The man sustained a head injury.
The truck, however, continued in reverse and drove the RCMP vehicle into the ditch with such force that the RCMP vehicle rolled.
The stolen vehicle continued to travel down the ditch, crashing through a farmer’s cattle gate before eventually stopping.
All officers ran to the vehicle, where they discovered the engine was running and the man’s foot was still on the accelerator.
The man had a critical head injury but was still alive.
Officers attempted to care for the man until Emergency Medical Services (EMS) arrived and the man was ultimately transported by STARS to an Edmonton hospital where he was pronounced dead.
On autopsy, the cause of death was confirmed to be the gunshot wound to the head.
Toxicology reports revealed the presence of methamphetamine in the man’s body.
Under the Criminal Code, police officers are granted certain powers to carry out the performance of what can be a challenging job.
A police officer is authorized under the Criminal Code to use as much force as is reasonably necessary in administration or enforcement of the law.
This can, in limited circumstances, include force that is intended or likely to cause grievous bodily harm or death.
Resort to lethal force is only authorized in circumstances when an officer believes, on reasonable grounds, that it is necessary for the self-preservation of the person or the preservation of anyone under the person’s protection from death or grievous bodily harm.
Further, under the Criminal Code, any person, including a police officer, is entitled to use reasonable force in defence of themselves or another person.
Upon careful review of the evidence gathered in this matter, it is the opinion of executive director Susan Hughson, Q.C., that the evidence does not provide reasonable grounds to believe that any officers committed any offences.
In this particular case, all three officers were on duty and actively engaged in the lawful execution of their duties.
The officers were dressed in full uniform and were each operating fully marked police vehicles.
As such, all officers were readily identifiable as police officers.
The officers were acting in the scope of their duties when they approached the man in the parked stolen vehicle to deal with him and arrest him.
Any assessment of the reasonableness of force used requires consideration of a number of different factors, including the use or threatened use of a weapon, the imminence of the threat, other options available, and the nature of the force or threat of force itself.
In this case, the man failed to comply with repeated clear verbal commands and persisted in his attempts to put the vehicle in motion.
This case differs from others in that the man’s decision to put his vehicle into motion immediately placed an officer at actual risk of grievous bodily harm or death.
The man’s conduct, trapping and dragging the officer between the door and the body of the moving vehicle, made the heavy-duty vehicle a weapon very capable of potentially causing that officer’s death.
Under the circumstances, and viewing the incident as a whole, the officers’ use of lethal force – employed only after the man failed to comply with commands and escalated the situation by putting the vehicle in motion and dragging the officer – was reasonable.
The risk presented by these actions was both serious and immediate.
These actions, both objectively and subjectively, gave rise to a risk of grievous bodily harm or death to the officer, and accordingly, the decision by officers to fire their service weapons, albeit a last resort, was both lawful and justified.
ASIRT’s mandate is to effectively, independently, and objectively investigate incidents involving Alberta’s police that have resulted in serious injury or death to any person, as well as serious or sensitive allegations of police misconduct.