B.C. prosecutors say they won’t pursue charges against a man accused in a violent confrontation that left a Nanaimo man with a gunshot wound in his abdomen, after finding he acted to protect himself and other homeless campers.
During the altercation, Smith was shot in the stomach. Craig Truckle, 37, was later identified as a suspect and charged with pointing a firearm.
But in a statement released Wednesday, the BC Prosecution Service said evidence suggested Truckle and other campers were acting in self-defence at the time, and that it could not meet the standard for proceeding to trial on this or other potential charges.
In the statement, the prosecution service said it had reviewed evidence including statements from parties on both sides of the altercation, bystanders and video evidence.
It said Smith went to the camp with a group of seven or eight men, at least two of whom were armed with weapons. Smith himself carried a collapsible baton and wore a slash-proof vest and knuckle-hardened gloves, while others had sticks and metal batons, and one wore a motorcycle helmet.
The group began to forcibly remove items from a tent in the encampment, prompting an escalating confrontation, the statement says.
Truckle then armed himself with a .22-calibre rifle and another man identified as Camper B produced a paintball gun.
Prosecutors say the conflict moved up an embankment into a nearby parking lot, where some of the altercation was caught on camera.
At the start of the altercation there were four men and two women in the camp, but as the fight moved up the embankment just Truckle and Camper B apparently remained.
“The video shows the accused pointing the rifle, while the complainant strikes camper B over the head with a collapsible baton,” it states.
“At some point, the complainant was shot, once, in the abdomen. Another bullet struck the front grill of his truck, which was parked nearby. It is unclear from the available evidence at precisely what point in the altercation this occurred.”
Prosecutors said evidence also showed Smith pushed or threw Camper B’s girlfriend down the embankment, and that one camper alleged Smith had threatened to get a shotgun and shoot the campers.
According to prosecutors, Smith sought to downplay his part in the conflict, claiming only four people went to the camp and denying that he had weapons. Prosecutors say video and items retrieved from his truck, including the collapsible baton, gloves, vest and motorcycle helmet, refute that claim. While the complainants and six other people in his group initially gave police statements, all have since ceased co-operating with police, prosecutors said.
“Statements provided by the campers as well as bystanders indicate that the complainant and his group were the aggressors, and the camp occupants acted to defend themselves,” the BC Prosecution Service said.
In its statement, the prosecution service said self-defence is a valid defence against a criminal charge if reasonable under the circumstances, and that the onus is on the Crown to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it does not apply.
The prosecution service said the campers were confronted by a larger group, who arrived armed, armoured and unannounced and who used weapons to strike the campers, and that the campers did not immediately resort to arming themselves but did so in response to violence and threats.
“The evidence establishes that several men, some armed with weapons, descended upon the tent encampment to forcibly remove property. As such, the accused, who was a camper at that location, had reasonable grounds to believe that force was being used or threatened against him and others,” the statement reads.
“The accused armed himself with a rifle after the confrontation had turned violent. His purpose was to defend himself and others from the threat posed by the complainant and his associates.”
Given those factors, it said, the Crown would not be able to disprove self-defence or defence of others beyond a reasonable doubt, and that it must stay proceedings and bring prosecution to an end.
The incident in March came amid growing tensions in the community over crime and public safety.
Residents have since staged numerous rallies calling for action to address what they say is rampant violent and property crime.
Nanaimo RCMP said, near the time of the shooting, that community members should never take the law into their own hands and should contact authorities when crimes occur.
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