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Police officer’s actions reasonable in fatal Shuswap standoff: IIO report

Click to play video 'Fatal standoff near Salmon Arm, January 2020' Fatal standoff near Salmon Arm, January 2020
A fatal standoff took place near Salmon Arm in January 2020. Eleven months later, the the Independent Investigations Office of BC released its findings into the lethal incident, stating the police officer acted reasonably – Dec 3, 2020

An investigation has concluded that a police officer who fatally shot a fleeing suspect in B.C.’s Southern Interior earlier this year acted reasonably in trying to protect himself.

On Thursday, the Independent Investigations Office of BC released its findings into the lethal incident on Jan. 8 near Salmon Arm.

The nine-page report detailed how officers spent hours trying to arrest the suspect from his home, only to have him flee after tear-gas canisters were fired inside the residence, resulting in him getting into his car, then allegedly trying to run over police.

Read more: B.C. IIO report opens door for charges in Kelowna traffic stop that ended with shots fired, man in hospital

The incident began on Jan. 7, around 7 p.m., when police responded to a report of mischief, with a trailer parked outside a home in the community of Tappen.

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According to the report, the trailer had been hit repeatedly with an axe or something similar. Tracks in the snow led police to the rear of the suspect’s nearby residence.

The report said two officers attended the home and knocked on the door. When the suspect eventually answered, he was filming the meeting.

One officer told the suspect he was under arrest. The suspect retreated inside the house but returned with a knife. In response, the other officer drew her firearm with the other officer calling for backup.

Two more police officers arrived and positioned themselves at the rear of the home. The suspect’s vehicle was also parked at the rear, with police placing a spike belt between the wheels.

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The report said the suspect came out of the house a second time, this time carrying and swinging a three-foot-long firefighter’s axe over his head.

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The RCMP’s Southeast Emergency Response Team (ERT) was called in, with officers arriving just before midnight.

ERT vehicles were positioned to the north and south of the home, with ERT members taking positions around the home.

The report said the plan was for officers to use a loudspeaker to have him come out, where he’d be arrested under the Mental Health Act. However, it said contingency plans were put in place “in case (the suspect) came out aggressively or tried to flee.”

The report also said there were outstanding warrants for the suspect’s arrest as well.

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“Over the following hours, a significant number of attempts were made to communicate and negotiate with (the suspect), without success,” said the report.

At 1:55 a.m., the suspect came out briefly with the axe, with officers telling him he was under arrest. The suspect came out again at 2:22 a.m., “making obscene gestures towards police. Officers said they could see that he appeared to be videoing them using a cellphone. He was otherwise completely unresponsive to police communications efforts.”

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The report said while police were attempting to drop a cellphone through a broken window to communicate with the suspect, he came out onto the front porch.

“Fearing for the safety of the officers, (an officer) fired a 40-millimetre ‘less lethal’ sponge round at (the suspect),” said the report. “Struck by the round, (the suspect) fell to the ground and then crawled back inside the residence.”

The report said the suspect did not respond to the cellphone, and that windows were broken to open communications channels.

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With things at a stalemate, police decided to use tear gas, hoping that would force the suspect to surrender.

The suspect exited the home, but at the rear, where he ignored orders to put his hands up. Another 40mm sponge round was fired, and while the officer was reloading, the suspect jumped into his vehicle, started it and drove away, around the residence and onto the driveway towards the street.

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The report said one officer did not see anything in the suspect’s hands at that time.

Hearing that the suspect was fleeing from the residence, another officer thought the suspect was fleeing on foot and being tracked by a Police Service Dog. The officer then tried to cut off the suspect’s escape path.

The report then detailed information from five officers on what they saw next, which was the vehicle driving down the icy driveway, towards the street, with officers in the way.

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One officer fired a non-lethal round that hit the vehicle’s hood as a warning shot.

Another said he saw the vehicle’s headlights “illuminate one of my teammates … on foot, right at the entrance to the driveway and the car was going right for him.”

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A third said the car was “accelerating, it was cooking, he was going fast, you could hear the sound of the vehicle accelerating towards (the officer).”

A fourth said the car was “absolutely flying.”

One officer said “if (the suspect) didn’t have a plan to run over policemen in the driveway, then they were going to be run over just because they were there. He wasn’t stopping for us. There was no way he could have stopped or wanted to stop.”

Several shots were then fired, with the suspect coming to a stop against a snowbank.

The suspect was pulled from the vehicle, with ERT members and paramedics attempting life-saving measures. At 3:36 a.m., the man was declared dead.

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An autopsy found that the suspect had been hit by bullets or bullet fragments in the head, chest and forearm. It also found he had no drugs in his system, other than a low level of THC.

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It’s unknown how many rounds were fired, but five rounds were found in the vehicle.

The report said video downloaded from the camera that the suspect was using recorded contact with the police, including the first officer telling him “Hi there, come outside and talk to us.”

A search of the home found a firefighter’s axe and a black-handled knife in the bedroom.

Read more: Penticton arrest now subject of IIO investigation, say B.C. RCMP

In concluding the incident, the report said “police had no reason to anticipate a significant likelihood of a tragic and fatal outcome.”

It also said with multiple eyewitness accounts corroborating the incident, the officer “was effectively trapped in the path of an oncoming vehicle, and so it was reasonable for (the officer) to conclude that his life was in immediate danger and that the use of lethal force against (the suspect) was justified.”

The IIO said it will not be referring the matter to Crown counsel for consideration of charges.

To view the report, click here.