Alberta’s police watchdog has ruled that an officer’s use of force in a fatal incident on the Whitefish Lake First Nation in 2017 was reasonable.
The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team said police were called to a home on the northern Alberta First Nation the evening of Sept. 6, 2017. A family member of the suspect told the dispatcher she believed her family member could be on the verge of hurting himself or others.
When she was on the phone with 911, the man was reportedly walking down the road carrying a baseball bat, while another family member followed him and tried to get him to come home.
A few minutes later, 911 received another call from two young women who said they were almost attacked by a man with a baseball bat while using a recreational vehicle in the area. That caller said the man appeared to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs and told dispatchers what she believed was the man’s name.
She also said it appeared the man was trying to hit his parents with the bat while on their driveway.
An officer arrived on scene at 7:04 p.m., ASIRT said. The officer reported approaching the man and addressing him by name while asking him what was going on.
The officer’s vehicle was equipped with front- and rear-facing cameras, but parts of the encounter occurred outside of frame, though there was a full audio recording of the incident, ASIRT said.
The officer could be heard telling the man to “drop the knife” several times as the two stepped into the camera frame. The officer deployed a weapon commonly known as a Taser, but said it didn’t initially make the man drop the knife.
The suspect then chased the officer toward the rear of the police vehicle where the two were off camera again. The officer can still be heard in the audio telling the man to drop the knife before two gunshots were fired, ASIRT said.
“The officer immediately calls ‘shots fired’ repeatedly over the police radio,” read a news release from ASIRT.
“Although the man initially fell to the ground after being shot, and can be heard groaning, he maintained possession of the knife and the officer can be heard to yell, ‘Drop the knife,’ an additional six times following the shots, before again radioing, ‘Shots fired.’”
The man then reportedly approached the officer two more times “making a swinging or thrusting motion with the knife.” The man’s family had arrived on scene and was reportedly begging the man to get down and stay down.
The man eventually collapsed from his injuries and the officer provided first aid until paramedics arrived.
The man was pronounced dead shortly after 8 p.m.
The autopsy determined the man suffered two gunshot wounds — one to the right flank and one to the right upper thigh. The second shot caused “rapid and significant” blood loss, ASIRT said.
The toxicology report showed the man had prescription and over-the-counter medication in his system. There was no alcohol present in his body.
Family members told ASIRT that the man had been acting strangely all day, even saying, “Today is the day” at one point.
The man also reportedly told a family member, “I gave my soul to the devil.”
According to the Criminal Code, an officer is entitled to use as much force as necessary in the lawful execution of his or her duties. This can include force that is intended to or is likely to cause death or bodily harm.
WATCH BELOW: An independent Indigenous community liaison was brought in to oversee an ASIRT investigation into the fatal shooting of a 26-year-old man on the Whitefish Lake First Nation in 2017.
Having reviewed the case, ASIRT executive director Susan Hughson said there are no reasonable grounds to believe the officer committed any offences.
“In these circumstances, the man both subjectively and objectively posed a risk of grievous bodily harm or death to the officer,” the release said.
“The officer had diligently tried to avoid the use of lethal force as demonstrated by his repeated attempts to get the man to drop the knife, the unsuccessful use of the CEW as an intermediate weapon in an attempt to disarm and incapacitate the man, and his very clear warnings to drop the knife or the man would be shot.
“But as the man closed the distance, the officer was left with no other options.”
ASIRT is called in to investigate any police activity that leads to death or injury of the public.