The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team provided new details about a two-day police operation near High Prairie, Alta., last week that ended with police officers shooting and killing a man from the Gift Lake Métis Settlement.
In a news release issued Monday, the police watchdog confirmed Lionel Ernest Grey died of his injuries after officers fired their guns at him on Friday. ASIRT said it was first called in to investigate on Thursday, as the situation was still unfolding, because police officers had fired their guns.
ASIRT said the encounter was preceded by an RCMP officer trying to pull over a vehicle “associated” with Grey, whom they said had outstanding criminal warrants. ASIRT and the RCMP have not disclosed what the warrants were for, although Mounties have said they relate to “various persons crimes.”
According to ASIRT, police tried to pull the vehicle over just before 11 a.m. on Thursday but the vehicle “fled from police,” who did not pursue the vehicle. The RCMP alerted other officers to keep an eye out for the vehicle and about a half-hour later, ASIRT said officers in another RCMP vehicle spotted it just east of Range Road 175, about three kilometres north of Highway 679.
“The vehicle was stuck in the mud and partially covered with a blanket,” ASIRT said. “Two RCMP officers cleared the vehicle, which was unoccupied, and found a bag containing three different types of ammunition, as well as identification belonging to the man.”
Two more police officers, one of whom was a police service dog (PSD) handler, arrived at the scene. The dog and its handler began tracking Grey “into thick bush for approximately three to six kilometres over about two hours,” ASIRT said.
“When the officers eventually encountered the man, whose identity was visually confirmed as the wanted 29-year-old, the man and police exchanged gunfire,” the police watchdog said. “During this incident, the PSD was struck by gunfire and killed.
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“No police officers were injured during this incident, nor was the man believed to have been struck. The officers received direction to disengage and were removed from the area by a civilian search and rescue helicopter.”
Neither the RCMP nor ASIRT have said whose bullets are believed to have killed the dog named Jago.
According to ASIRT, more police resources were deployed to the Winagami Provincial Park area, and officers once again came across Grey.
“During this encounter, several police officers discharged their firearms,” ASIRT said. “At the time, the officers believed the man had been struck. After attempts to communicate with the man or force him out of the thick bush were unsuccessful, a physical search of the area was conducted but failed to locate the man.
“After a lengthy search through dense brush spanning several hours, police made contact with the man on two additional occasions and issued verbal commands to him. No shots were fired during these encounters, and officers were able to establish that the man did not, in fact, appear to be injured.”
According to ASIRT, it was at that point that RCMP “established containment” around the roads in the area as they continued to try to track Grey down.
At about 11:45 a.m. on Friday, two RCMP officers spotted Grey in a ditch, the police watchdog said.
“The officers exited their marked police vehicle and a confrontation occurred between the man and the police officers, during which both officers discharged their service firearms,” ASIRT said. “The man fell to the ground in the tall grass, and additional police officers and emergency response team medical officers responded to the area.
“Medical officers attempted to treat the man but, ultimately, he died at the scene.”
ASIRT said officers found a loaded semi-automatic .22-calibre rifle along with a range-finder at the scene.
“ASIRT’s investigation will examine the actions of police during this incident, while the RCMP will maintain responsibility for the investigation of the man and his actions,” the police watchdog said.
“As ASIRT’s investigation is underway, no further information will be released at this time.”
High Prairie is located about 365 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.