Calgary, Alberta – On March 21, 2015, pursuant to s. 46.1 of the Police Act, the Director of Law Enforcement directed the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) to investigate the circumstances surrounding an officer-involved shooting resulting in serious injury to a 30-year-old Calgary man.
On the morning of March 21, 2015, approximately 20-25 people attended City Hall for a planned and peaceful anti-racism rally. Due to problems encountered during previous rallies, the Calgary Police Service (CPS) developed an operational plan in an attempt to maintain order and protect the safety of those involved.
At approximately 11 a.m., an officer noted a Caucasian man with a shaved head approach the protesters and start to yell, escalating tensions. The 30-year-old man shouted white power at the protesters while holding his clenched fists above his head. He then raised his middle finger in the commonly recognized obscene gesture. The protesters laughed at him which appeared to make him very agitated and angry. An independent observer believed the man and some of the protesters had words, and appeared to be egging each other on. Although words were exchanged, it was confirmed the man made no actual threats or threatening gestures.
Believing the man might be a counter-protester, two CPS officers were directed by a supervisor to exit their marked police vehicle and speak to the man. As they approached, the man continued to yell at the protesters. A third officer indicated that he had observed the man spit on the sidewalk, a potential bylaw offence.
Officers made the decision to approach the man and obtain his identification for the purposes of the bylaw infraction. As they moved towards the man, he began walking westbound across Macleod Trail SE, away from police, crossing the road against a pedestrian traffic light displaying the solid red hand. The man began to attempt to try to create distance from police by increasing his speed into a fast jog. At 1 Street SE, he again crossed the road against the pedestrian traffic signal and upon him seeing the officers approaching, began to run. As these events unfolded, the man’s description was broadcast over the police radio stating he had committed traffic and bylaw offences.
An officer responding to the rally location overheard the broadcast. This officer, operating a large police van, was travelling eastbound on 8 Avenue SE when he observed the man run north on Centre Street from 8 Avenue SE. The officer turned north on Centre Street, got ahead of the man and pulled over onto the east sidewalk to block the man’s path. The man changed course and went around the back of the police van and continued west into the alley between 8 and 7 Avenue. The officer exited the police van and began to follow him on foot.
The events in the alley were not only witnessed by a number of individuals, but were also monitored by several closed-circuit cameras. In this case, the clearest evidence of the events in the alley came from two closed circuit camera digital recordings. Although civilian witnesses were very forthcoming and honest in their recollections, where the recollections differed from the events as depicted on the video, reliance has been placed on the video evidence. The impact of well-understood potential flaws and frailties of eye-witness evidence have been minimized by the availability of clear video evidence.
A short distance into the alley, the man stopped running and turned towards the officer who was still running towards him. The man raised his hands and arms out on either side of his body at waist height. The officer slowed to a walk and approached the man, placing his right hand on the man’s shoulder. It appears that the officer was speaking to the man when the man used his right arm and punched the officer on the left side of his head. The officer drew his police baton and struck the man on the left wrist area. As the officer again raised the baton, the man reached with his right hand behind his back on his right side and produced a long silver object that looked like a pipe. The officer dropped his baton and drew his service pistol, pointing it at the man.
The man raised the weapon up, above his head in a threatening manner. At that point, the officer discharged his police service weapon at the same time as the man threw the weapon at the officer. The pipe-like object struck the officer in the leg. The man appeared to shift or turn to the right when struck, and dropped to the ground. The evidence clearly establishes that the officer discharged his firearm four times, with two of the shots striking the man, with the shots commencing when the man’s weapon was raised. All four shots were fired within 1.1 seconds.
Officers immediately provided emergency medical care until emergency medical services arrived. He was treated by EMS and transported to hospital where he underwent emergency surgery. The man survived his injuries; however, one bullet entered the left lower chest wall, struck a lung and tragically became lodged in the man’s spine which resulted in permanent disability and confinement to a wheelchair.
ASIRT Executive Director Susan D. Hughson, Q.C., received the completed ASIRT investigation and carefully reviewed the evidence. An officer is entitled to use force to do what is required by law, so long as it is no more force than necessary to achieve the purpose. In this case, the amount of force required and reasonably necessary changed as the incident unfolded. The officer initially attempted to resolve the situation without the use of his service weapons. The evidence, as a whole, suggests that at the time the officer initially approached the man and placed a hand on his shoulder, the officer was calm and in control. Conversely, the man was agitated, struggled with the officer and, based on the evidence, punched the officer in the head. The officer quite properly moved to the use of a less-than-lethal-force intermediate weapon, the baton. The man still did not surrender and, once again, escalated the seriousness of this event by producing what appeared to be a pipe and brandishing it as a weapon. It is only at this point that the officer produced his service pistol and as the man raised and threw the pipe at him, he discharged his firearm. The man clearly presented a risk of grievous bodily harm to the officer, and as such, the officer’s use of lethal force was reasonable notwithstanding the tragic consequences.
ASIRT’s mandate is to effectively, independently, and objectively investigate incidents involving Alberta’s police that have resulted in serious injury or death to any person, as well as serious or sensitive allegations of police misconduct.