No charges against New Brunswick police officer in death of Chantel Moore

Click to play video: 'Honouring Chantel Moore one year later' Honouring Chantel Moore one year later
It has been one year since Chantel Moore’s death. The Indigenous woman was killed by a police officer during a wellness check, prompting questions and calls for policing reforms across the country. As Travis Fortnum reports, her family says not enough has changed. – Jun 4, 2021

New Brunswick’s public prosecution service says no charges are warranted against the police officer involved in the death of Chantel Moore.

Moore, a 26-year-old Indigenous woman from Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation in British Columbia, was shot and killed by an Edmundston police officer who was called to do a wellness check on her on June 4, 2020.

In a release issued late Monday, Public Prosecution Services said the Crown has concluded its review of a report done by Quebec’s Bureau of Independent Investigations, which investigated the case because New Brunswick does not have its own police oversight agency.

Read more: Quebec watchdog completes its probe into police-involved death of Chantel Moore

The bureau’s report said on the day Moore was killed, a person made a call to the Edmundston police to ensure the safety of Moore at around 2 a.m.

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When police arrived, Moore allegedly opened the door to her apartment holding a knife and walked toward the police officer. The officer allegedly stepped back and asked Moore to drop the knife. When that didn’t happen, he fired four times.

The watchdog agency concluded its report in December and handed it off to New Brunswick’s public prosecution service to determine if charges should be laid.

Read more: ‘What has changed?’: Honouring Chantel Moore one year later

“Based on the review of the evidence, it is of our opinion that in the early morning hours of June 4, the officer in question did believe, on reasonable grounds, that force or a threat of force was being used against him by Ms. Moore, that he shot at Ms. Moore for the purpose of defending or protecting himself and that his actions were reasonable under the circumstances,” said Monday’s release.

“The action of the officer was in response to a potential lethal threat approaching him quickly, having no other escape option available on the third-floor balcony he was confined to, and following repeated orders that Ms. Moore drop the weapon she was holding.”

It went on to say that the officer was justified in “doing what is required or authorized to do and in using as much force as is necessary for that purpose.”

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Moore’s family has previously said that the circumstances did not warrant her being shot multiple times.

Read more: ‘It’s not fair’: Family of Chantel Moore calls for justice on steps of B.C. legislature

The release said the circumstances surrounding her death were “tragic.”

“Chantel was a beloved daughter, mother, sister and friend. She was a member of Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation in British Columbia who had recently moved to New Brunswick to be closer to her family,” it said.

“We offer our deepest sympathies to her loved ones and to the communities touched by this loss.”

Moore was the first of two Indigenous people to be shot and killed by police in New Brunswick that month. Rodney Levi was killed by the RCMP just over a week later in Sunny Corner, N.B. Prosecutors also decided to not charge the officers in that case.

Inquest scheduled for next month

On Monday, chief coroner Jérôme Ouellette announced an inquest — a formal court proceeding that allows for the public presentation of all evidence related to a death -– is scheduled to begin on Dec. 6.

The exact location of the inquest and the presiding coroner will be announced at a later date, according to a release from the Department of Justice and Public Safety.

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Read more: Family of New Brunswick man shot dead by police hopes inquest can answer questions

“At the inquest, the presiding coroner and a jury will publicly hear evidence from witnesses to determine the facts surrounding this death,” the release said.

“The jury will have the opportunity to make recommendations aimed at preventing deaths under similar circumstances in the future.”

The release noted that the coroner service does not make any finding of legal responsibility, nor does it assign blame.

Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council responds

In a statement, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council called Moore a “young beautiful mother” and said they were outraged by the news that the officer would not be charged.

“This reality is reflective of Canada’s persisting colonization and genocidal practices. No one deserves to be gunned down on a wellness check,” the council wrote.

They go on to say they demand policy that “reflects meaningful change, accountability, and respect for all human beings, not more killings.”

The council’s president, Judith Sayers, points out there was no body cam evidence and no witnesses.

“Shooting 4 times is excessive force by anyone’s standards except the Crown counsel,” she stated.

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The council says they will not stop seeking justice for Moore, and that her mother is considering a civil suit.

What the review says

Public Prosecution Services met with Moore’s family on Monday before the review was released.

According to the review and analysis of the case by Patrick Wilbur, the Saint John regional director of Public Prosecution Services, Moore hung out with a female friend and an acquaintance at her apartment the night she was killed.

She was drinking, but was coherent and in good spirits, according to her friend. One neighbor came by that evening to ask them to keep it down.

Read more: Justice for Regis Korchinski-Paquet march held in Toronto as anniversary of death approaches

The acquaintance left earlier in the evening and the friend left around midnight. She came back around 1 a.m. to retrieve her wallet, which she left behind, and said Moore was alone in the apartment at the time and was drinking.

“When (the friend) left for the second time that evening, Ms. Moore accompanied her to her car and Ms. Moore was on her phone. The conversation appeared normal, not sad or angry in tone,” it said.

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Phone records show Moore had multiple conversations with people through her phone that night, including her ex-boyfriend who called the police.

The review said he called the police around 2 a.m. from his home in Quebec after receiving concerning messages, “which led him to believe that someone had ‘pirated’ or taken control of her Facebook Messenger account.”

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“Due to the content and tone of the messages, including one which suggested that the writer was watching her sleep and maybe was present with her, he became concerned enough to call 9-1-1,” it said.

An Edmundston Police Force officer arrived to the scene at 2:30 a.m. after getting Moore’s address from her mother. According to his police narrative, he climbed the stairs leading to her third-floor apartment and knocked on the window to wake up Moore, who was sleeping on the couch.

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It said he turned his flashlight on himself to illuminate the fact that he was wearing a police uniform and pointed at her door.

The officer then observed her retrieving a “metallic” object from her kitchen counter and she “appeared angry” as she approached the door. The officer said he backed up from the door and removed his side arm from his holster.

He also had a pepper spray and a baton, but, the review said, “given how quickly the events unfolded and the nature of the threat he faced this author can’t say that the use of force was disproportionate.” He was not equipped with a Taser.

It said Moore opened the door and exited the apartment, moving in his direction with a “small steak knife” in her left hand. It said the officer told her repeatedly in French to drop the knife as he backed up toward the end of the balcony.

Read more: Decision in RCMP shooting of Rodney Levi called ‘infuriating’ by First Nation chief

“He said that Ms. Moore continued her movement towards him, with the knife held as if she wanted to stab or slash him,” it said. “Officer 1 said that he was now cornered. He had nowhere to go as he was at the end of a third-floor balcony.”

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The officer then fired four shots at Moore before she fell on the floor of the balcony. Another officer arrived and called an ambulance. She died at the scene.

According to Moore’s autopsy, the cause of death “was found to be extensive injuries to the internal organs caused by gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen.”

While the review described her death as “deeply regrettable,” it concluded it was as a result of her “being severely impaired by alcohol” and exiting her apartment with a knife and advancing upon the officer.

The review said the officer – a use of force instructor – “expressed regret” over going to his left, instead of his right, as Moore exited her apartment.

“He knew that an officer should always take into account/consideration your environment, to ensure that you leave yourself an exit path, and not cornering himself as he did,” it said.

“After the fact, he regrets his decision to go left and not towards the stairs, as he would have had an exit route. He acknowledges that had he done that, the sequence of events may have had a different outcome.”

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