An internal investigation into the arrest of a Stormtrooper outside a Lethbridge restaurant has been completed and no misconduct has been found on the part of the Lethbridge Police Service members involved.
On May 4, 2020, several 911 calls were received about a Stormtrooper carrying what appeared to be a real gun along 13 Street North.
Officers arrived and told the person to drop the weapon and get on the ground. When the person dropped the weapon and kneeled down, the LPS said, “they appeared non-responsive to subsequent demands and there was a belief the person might be searching for a path to escape,” in a Wednesday news release.
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The person was approached from behind by an officers and forced to the ground in a “controlled movement” and handcuffed.
Once the mask was removed, police learned the Stormtrooper was a 19-year-old woman who was working to support a nearby Star Wars-themed restaurant.
“There is no doubt that this incident was extremely stressful for the woman involved as she likely did not understand what was happening and was not able to see or communicate well through her helmet,” Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh said.
“Firearm calls like this are also very stressful for officers who are trying to process everything very quickly while protecting themselves and other people in the area from a potentially lethal weapon.”
The woman suffered a nosebleed in the incident, so the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team was directed to investigate the police actions.
No criminal charges were recommended.
Then the Medicine Hat Police Service was asked by the LPS to carry out a professional misconduct investigation into the matter in an effort to avoid perception of bias or conflict of interest.
After reviewing the 250-page report, Mehdizadeh found the officers are not guilty of misconduct for the following reasons:
- When officers arrived at the scene, they confirmed the subject of the 911 calls was carrying what appeared to be a real gun and was in a parking lot with no signs, music or activity to suggest the officers should not take the potential threat seriously.
- The action of the officers was consistent with use-of-force-policies and protocols to respond to calls potentially involving firearms in a tactically safe manner for all involved.
- The time between officers arriving on scene and the woman being handcuffed was two minutes and 20 seconds. The time from the woman being handcuffed to standing with handcuffs removed was two minutes and 45 seconds.
As such, Mehdizadeh said the officers were “handled the threat to which they were dispatched in a measured and prudent way.”
”They assessed the threat as best they could while trying to immediately prevent any potential shooting at them or others. They took it seriously, they followed LPS policy and training, and they brought resolution expeditiously, with no more force than was absolutely necessary,” he said.
“Once they observed the threat was not as it was reported, they immediately disengaged and offered the woman help.”
“We are looking at several people calling us who have concerns about this incident. For anyone to think someone in a costume can’t hurt other people, they’re mistaken,” Mehdizadeh said.
The woman in the costume had been promoting a Star Wars-themed restaurant at the time of the incident.
The owner of that business, Bradley Whalen, says he’s now written a letter to Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu, saying he’s “absolutely appalled that this was the response and position of LPS.”
“The emotional toll that many of my staff have had to endure because of this incident still has lasting effects today,” he added.
Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association policing committee chair Tom Engel believes the incident should have stopped as soon as the replica gun was dropped.
“It should have been the end of the investigation,” Engel said. “They should have gone to her, explain what was going on, but then they use force on her, hurt her, handcuff her and confine her.”
On Wednesday, Chief Mehdizadeh called the incident “unfortunate,” but is standing behind his officers’ response given the fact there were genuine concerns about public safety.
“When I look at the incident, the officers didn’t do anything wrong. They just responded to a call, but I also understand that this was an unfortunate incident,” Mehdizadeh said.
“She didn’t do anything wrong and neither did our officers.”
A few days after the incident, the arrest caught the attention of Canadian actor William Shatner.
“Rifles drawn for a plastic toy cosplayer? Didn’t comply right away? Are you blind Chief (sic)?,” he tweeted.
“Watch the video to see how quickly she complied. This cannot be covered up,” he wrote over a video shared by a bystander.
— With files from Erik Bay, Global News