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Police believed man killed in Lytton standoff shot in their direction, inquest hears

Click to play video: 'Police believe Lytton man fired shots before he was killed, officers testify at Coroners Inquiry'
Police believe Lytton man fired shots before he was killed, officers testify at Coroners Inquiry
The first two police officers to respond to Barry Shantz's house in January 2020 testified Wednesday, saying they believe Shantz fired shots in their direction. They also spoke of their decision to call for backup. Shantz was shot and killed by officers following a six-hour standoff with an emergency response team. Grace Ke reports. – Jul 5, 2023

The first officers to arrive at the scene of an ultimately fatal standoff in Lytton, B.C., three years ago told a coroner’s inquest Wednesday that they believed the man who died had fired a shot in their direction.

A police sniper fatally shot Barry Shantz when he emerged from his home carrying a loaded shotgun following a six-hour standoff with an emergency response team on Jan. 13, 2020.

Shantz was a well-known advocate for those experiencing homelessness in the Fraser Valley, but also struggled with mental health issues.

Click to play video: 'Inquest into death of Barry Shantz begins'
Inquest into death of Barry Shantz begins

The initial two officers who responded to a 911 call about a suicidal man told the coroner’s jury in Burnaby that when they arrived, Shantz stuck his head out of a second-floor window and fired his gun.

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The barrel of Shantz’s gun was pointed in their direction, but not directly at them, they testified.

“To me, it looked like up and to his left … so offline,” Const. Nathan Blair told the inquest.

“It was nerve-wracking. He had the high ground … you don’t know if he is going to take another shot,” he added.

The officers were shown a photo of an apparent bullet hole through the eaves of the house, but both testified they hadn’t thought Shantz had hit the house.

The scene of a fatal shooting by police in Lytton, B.C., on Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. Submitted

Whether or not Shantz shot at the officers is a key issue in the incident, according to Tonia Grace, the lawyer for Shantz’s sister Marilyn Farquhar.

“One of the things that’s been of concern to the family and to Marilyn is this false narrative that Barry fired towards police; Barry wasn’t a violent person, Barry didn’t fire towards police, Barry fired a warning shot in the air,” she said.

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“I think it set the scene for an overkill response … the fact that it was expressed that he’d fired at officers then led, I feel, to the very paramilitary response that came, that then didn’t de-escalate the situation.”

Click to play video: 'Vancouver police respond to Myles Gray coroner’s inquest'
Vancouver police respond to Myles Gray coroner’s inquest

The inquest also heard Wednesday about the 911 call that Shantz’s partner made, telling police he was suicidal and had a weapon.

Murdock McIntyre, Shantz’s partner’s brother, testified that he phoned Shantz when he learned of the standoff, asking him, “What are you doing? Are you going to shoot yourself? There is no dignity in killing yourself.”

McIntyre told the inquest Shantz responded by saying he was going to walk out the front door at 2:15 p.m. with a shotgun in his hand.

“I said, ‘You can’t do that. They are going to put a hole in you … that’s suicide,'” McIntyre testified.

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The RCMP ultimately flew in an emergency response team and a crisis negotiator, but Shantz’s sister says she wants to know why nobody brought a mental health worker to the scene.

She also had questions about the bullet hole in the home’s eave.

The photo entered as evidence Wednesday was taken weeks after the shooting, but Grace said the Independent Investigations Office only learned about the hole from Shantz’s partner.

“The IIO’s job is to investigate the facts,” she said.

“To take the officer’s word that Barry fired towards them, to justify the paramilitary response when there’s a clear bullet hole directly above that window needed to be corrected — and the IIO at the time refused to correct it.”

The IIO’s investigation into the shooting cleared police of any wrongdoing, finding police had a reasonable fear of death or bodily harm when Shantz followed through with his plan to come out with the shotgun shortly after 2 p.m.

The crisis negotiator deployed to the scene and the officer who took the fatal shot are slated to testify Thursday.

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