An internal RCMP investigation has cleared officers who were accused of mistreating the family of an Indigenous man after he was shot to death on a Saskatchewan farm.
Colten Boushie‘s family filed a complaint about how they were treated when they were notified of his death in August 2016.
The complaint, detailed in an RCMP report recently sent to the family, said Boushie’s mother, Debbie Baptiste, felt the way police surrounded her home “seemed out of the ordinary and insensitive.”
Baptiste also said one officer told her to “get it together” when she collapsed after learning of her son’s death and asked her if she’d been drinking.
The family also said police searched the house without permission.
But the RCMP report obtained by The Canadian Press says the allegations couldn’t be supported.
It says officers believed someone who ran from the shooting scene could have been in the house and armed.
None of the officers at the home could recall anyone telling Baptiste to “get it together” or asking her if she’d been drinking, according to the report, which was based on an investigation by RCMP Insp. Teddy Munro.
Officers also said they received verbal permission to look around from one of Baptiste’s sons.
“Based on the unique set of circumstances, I can acknowledge how the officer’s approach would have been perceived as insensitive and for this the RCMP apologizes,” RCMP Supt. Mike Gibbs wrote in the report dated Oct. 19.
“However, given the safety risks involved, the ongoing homicide investigation, and the limited information that could be provided by and to the officers, the approach the RCMP had to take was tactical in nature and in this situation it was acceptable.”
Chris Murphy, a lawyer for the Boushie family, questioned the RCMP’s internal investigation.
“The RCMP was investigating the RCMP and concluded that the complaints were not founded,” Murphy said.
He added the RCMP explanations in their letter to the family don’t make sense.
Murphy said either police were there to notify Baptiste of her son’s death or to search the house. If they were there for both reasons, he said they should have checked the home first.
“That’s what you do first to protect, not only the police officers, but the people you’re going to notify, because if there is a shootout, people can get caught in the middle of it,” said Murphy.
“You don’t notify the family first, and then ask for consent, and then go and search the residence, if you actually believe there’s somebody inside with a firearm.”
Boushie, 22, was shot and killed Aug. 9, 2016, while riding in an SUV that went onto a farm near Biggar, Sask.
The farmer, Gerald Stanley, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and is to stand trial next year.
The Boushie family has also complained that an RCMP news release made Boushie “look like a criminal and he ‘deserved what he got’,” because it said that people in the car had been taken into custody as part of a theft investigation. They were released without charges.
The report says the news release followed RCMP protocol.
“Regardless, I apologize if you felt the media releases depicted your son as a thief, and caused your family further anguish, as that was never the intent,” wrote Gibbs.
He said in the future, aboriginal police services will review all media releases regarding serious matters that involve Indigenous people or communities.
The report does say two officers did not act appropriately when they got into a police chase while a woman who had been a passenger in the SUV was in custody in the back of the police vehicle.
It says the officers were trying to locate and stop two vehicles that approached the scene of the shooting. Constables Andrew Park and Mark Wright “were in a rush and did not notice the female in the back seat.”
Gibbs wrote that the officers were given operational guidance about the policy on driving and the safe handling of prisoners.
Staff Sgt. Rob Embree defended the RCMP decision to investigate itself, rather than calling in an outside investigator.
“It would have been looked at. It would have been determined that the investigation would have been done at our level in the RCMP,” Embree said Thursday.
He also said the family can appeal the findings.
“If they’re not satisfied with the results of the investigation, they can go to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission saying, ‘We’re not satisfied with that. We want it looked at at a higher level,'” Embree told reporters at Saskatchewan RCMP headquarters in Regina.
Murphy said the Boushie family will appeal.