An officer with the Gleichen RCMP detachment “acted reasonably” when he fatally shot a 26-year-old man from Morley, Alta., in a traffic stop that went awry in October 2017, according to Alberta’s police watchdog.
In a news release issued Tuesday, the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team said a lengthy investigation led to its conclusion that the situation required responding officers to “use as much force as was reasonably necessary.”
“The subsequent actions of the man, in persistently reaching for what reasonably appeared to be a firearm — despite repeated verbal commands by the officers — created a situation that reasonably gave rise to a fear of death or grievous bodily harm on the part of the officers,” ASIRT said.
“Accordingly, following a full investigation and assessment of the evidence, there are no reasonable grounds, or even reasonable suspicion, to believe that the officers committed any Criminal Code offence(s).”
On Oct. 19, 2017, RCMP officers noticed an SUV parked facing the wrong direction on Haskayne Avenue, a main thoroughfare in Gleichen, Alta., according to ASIRT, which noted the vehicle was parked near a home the agency alleges “was known to be associated with the local drug trade.”
According to ASIRT, police noticed at 3:40 a.m. that the SUV was still parked in the same spot with its lights off and that it looked like the driver’s “head was cocked back awkwardly, his mouth was wide open and he did not appear to be conscious or moving.”
The police watchdog said two uniformed Mounties then walked up to the SUV “with one officer on the driver’s side and the other officer on the passenger’s side.”
“Both officers knocked on the vehicle’s windows. The man did not wake up, but did appear to be breathing. At this point, the officer standing at the driver’s side window observed what appeared to be a firearm placed between the man’s legs, and informed the other officer.”
ASIRT said that at that point the second officer went to his vehicle to get his long gun and returned to approach the SUV on the passenger side.
“The officers initially planned for the officer on the driver’s side to open the door and grab the firearm while the other officer provided cover, but the driver’s door was locked,” the police watchdog said in its findings. “The officer on the driver’s side then tried to break the driver’s side window with his flashlight, while armed with his service pistol in his other hand.
“The flashlight failed to break the window but did rouse the man inside.”
ASIRT said the officers then identified themselves and shouted commands and told the SUV driver that he was under arrest.
“The man looked directly at the officer on the driver’s side of the vehicle and swore at the officer,” ASIRT said. “As the man’s hands went towards the firearm, both officers again shouted commands to show his hands.
According to ASIRT, the officers then seized the man’s gun, which turned out to be “some form of homemade shotgun,” from somewhere between the driver’s door and driver’s seat of the SUV.
ASIRT said the gun was a single-shot 12-gauge shotgun, “consisting of a metal pipe and wooden stock, with a firing pin.”
According to the report, it would have appeared to be a firearm and it would have been impossible for police to know whether it was functioning.
The man was then taken out of the vehicle and pronounced dead by paramedics after they tried to treat his injuries.
“An autopsy conducted by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined the man’s cause of death to be multiple gunshot wounds,” ASIRT said. “There was no evidence of close-range gunfire.”
Although ASIRT did not disclose the identity of the man who died, the oversight agency noted the man had a criminal record and was not supposed to be in possession of a gun. ASIRT noted that the RCMP officers who approached the SUV he was in would not have been aware of that.
The watchdog also said several “civilian witnesses” it spoke with about the man who died suggested the man may have been hoping for a confrontation with police.
“One person who was with the man earlier that evening described the man’s recent state of mind as ‘freaked out’ and ‘paranoid all the time,'” ASIRT said.