UPDATE: On June 21, 2021, the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team issued a news release offering new details on the police operation. For the latest, click here.
An RCMP service dog was killed Thursday and a man is dead after a two-day-long police situation in northern Alberta involving a suspect who was believed to be armed and dangerous.
The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team said it had been directed to investigate an RCMP officer-involved shooting that took place Friday near High Prairie and resulted in the death of a 29-year-old man.
At a news conference on Friday night, the Alberta RCMP’s deputy criminal operations officer provided a summary of the events that unfolded over Thursday and Friday, leading to the deaths.
“The last couple of weeks have been very challenging for the RCMP,” Chief Supt. Kevin Kunetzki told reporters in Edmonton, noting that an RCMP officer was killed in Saskatchewan earlier this month. “Today we are saddened yet again.”
According to Kunetzki, a member of the McLennan RCMP detachment first tried to pull over Lionel Ernest Grey of the Gift Lake Métis Settlement on Thursday at about 10:30 a.m., however, the suspect did not stop. For safety reasons, police did not pursue the vehicle.
Kunetzki said Grey was wanted on outstanding warrants for “various persons crimes” but did not elaborate.
At around 11 a.m., police said an officer spotted Grey’s vehicle turning from Highway 679 into the Winagami Provincial Park. RCMP contained and searched the area and found the vehicle abandoned in the area about 30 kilometres northwest of High Prairie, Alta.
The RCMP said the vehicle got stuck in the mud and the suspect fled on foot. RCMP Cpl. Deanna Fontaine said Friday morning that the area had been evacuated and the public was asked to stay away from the park while the police operation continued.
Fontaine did not say how many residents were forced from the area.
Officers, along with a police service dog, attempted to track Grey, at which time Fontaine said the canine was killed.
During Friday night’s new conference, Kunetzki confirmed there was “an exchange of gunfire” after which the service dog, Jago, was killed on Thursday. He did not confirm who fired shots or if Jago was shot.
Kunetzki said at about noon on Friday, Grey was taken into custody “with serious injuries.”
He said Grey was given medical aid by police and paramedics but he died shortly after being taken into custody. He said he could not comment on Grey’s injuries or how he sustained them because ASIRT is investigating what led up to his and Jago’s deaths.
The watchdog agency, however, said it would be investigating a police shooting.
“The loss of life in these situations is tragic,” he said. ” Our condolences to the family (of Grey).”
Kunetzki said Jago, who was born in 2016, served as a police service dog for four years, beginning in B.C.’s Lower Mainland. He spent the last year serving at RCMP detachments in northern Alberta.
“Police dogs play an important role in what we do,” he said. “They are a valuable member of our team.
“It is always difficult losing an enforcement animal.”
Kunetzki added that the events serve as “a reminder of the risks that our members find themselves in.”
“(We are) thankful for the service of our members, our employees and our police animals,” he said.
The RCMP said Jago’s handler was Cpl. Scott MacLeod of the High Prairie RCMP detachment. Kunetzki offered his condolences to MacLeod and said RCMP members will go through “incident stress debriefing” after which they will be continuously followed up with.
“It’s very difficult,” he said. “We accept that there’s going to be some challenges in policing when we join… (but) there’s a lot of realities that are quite difficult.”
Kunetzki said a significant police presence will still be at the scene of the gunfire for some time to investigate and said people should continue to avoid the area.
Police said no human officers were injured over the course of the operation.
High Prairie Mayor Brian Panasiuk said the town’s flags have been lowered to honour the police service dog that was killed.
“From the town’s perspective, when we heard that… we consider the dog or the K-9 unit to be a regular RCMP member so we lowered our flags to honour him.”
High Prairie is located about 365 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.