Edmonton, Alberta – On March 4, 2018, the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) was directed to investigate the circumstances surrounding an officer-involved shooting that took place that same day in Sherwood Park, and that resulted in serious injury to a 40-year-old man.
At about 3:39 a.m., the 40-year-old man called 911 requesting an ambulance to a residence in Sherwood Park. The man told the dispatcher that he had been having hallucinations and had self-inflicted injuries, having stabbed himself in the neck multiple times. The man denied being suicidal and confirmed that the knives were still in his possession. An ambulance and police were both dispatched, as the man was potentially still armed or had access to weapons.
Emergency Medical Services (EMS) arrived on scene first and staged in the area to await the arrival of police. The plan was for police to enter first and ensure the scene was safe for the EMS response. This is a common practice when a person may be armed and/or have immediate access to weapons, and may be in the midst of a mental health breakdown. It was determined that officers would enter the residence first to assess the situation, and ensure the safety of the scene for EMS personnel.
When officers approached the front door of the residence, a woman answered, but initially did not open the door. The officers identified themselves as police and informed the woman that someone in the basement had called for an ambulance, a fact she was unaware of. The officers urged the woman to open the door, and after a short time, she did. During a later interview, the woman confirmed that the man had called out to her from the basement and asked her to let the police into the residence.
Once inside, three officers proceeded to the basement. They could hear a man talking but were unable to make out what he was saying. Upon entering the dark basement, the officers’ flashlights revealed the man standing at the end of a hallway. He was bleeding significantly from the neck, and holding what appeared to be a revolver in one hand, pointed toward the ground. It was communicated that the man had a gun and the officers transitioned to their service weapons. Two of the officers issued clear commands to drop the gun and stop, orders audible to the woman upstairs. The man did not respond to the officers’ directions and, after a brief moment, advanced on them, raising the gun in their direction. The officers repositioned to gain cover and distance themselves from the man, but when the man raised his firearm to what was described as almost chest level, the officers began discharging their service pistols, striking the man.
Despite his injuries, the man continued to advance towards the officers with his gun raised. Officers again fired at the man until he fell to the ground. The man maintained control of the gun until he fell to the ground, when it fell slightly to his side. The man reached for his gun and one officer fired an additional shot in his general direction. This shot did not strike the man but caused him to move his hand away from the firearm. The only words the man uttered to police came following the shooting, when he indicated he could not roll over onto his stomach. He surrendered, was handcuffed and EMS was called into the residence to render aid. The man was treated and transported to hospital. Once at hospital, he received medical attention for gunshot wounds to his torso, groin and leg and an eight-centimetre self-inflicted laceration to the neck.
Blood tests confirmed that the man was not under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances.
After the incident, the weapon the man was holding was recovered and determined to be a Crosman 357 revolver-style pellet gun. A search of the basement bathroom of the residence revealed two knives, a bloody towel, and a handwritten note addressed to the woman in the home from the man. The note advised her that he did not wish to kill himself, but indicated that he had been having hallucinations for weeks.
Under the Criminal Code, police officers are granted certain powers and authorities to facilitate the performance of what can be a challenging job. Under Sec. 25 of the Criminal Code, a police officer is authorized to use as much force as is reasonably necessary in administration of the law. This may include lethal force where an officer believes, on reasonable grounds, that it is necessary for the self-preservation of the person or the preservation of anyone under that person’s protection from death or grievous bodily harm. Further, under Sec. 34 of the Criminal Code, any person, including a police officer, is entitled to the use of reasonable force in defence of themselves or another person.
In order for a police officer’s use of force not only to be authorized but protected, the officer must be acting in the lawful execution of his or her duties, often referred to as lawful placement. In this particular case, there is no question that all involved officers were acting in the lawful execution of their duties. All three subject officers were on duty, in full uniform, and were readily identifiable as police officers. The subject officers had responded to a 911 call at the affected person’s residence, and on the basis of the nature of the call and the information that was known to them at the time, were lawfully placed in their entrance to the affected person’s residence to assist the EMS call.
Once inside the residence, the officers were confronted with what appeared to be an armed individual who was noncompliant with repeated verbal commands. When the affected person advanced on the officers and raised what appeared to be a handgun, the situation, both objectively and subjectively, gave rise to a fear of grievous bodily harm or death. In this situation, officers were dealing with an unknown person, whose intent they could not possibly predict with any certainty how far he might go, raising and pointing what appeared to be a firearm towards uniformed police officers who had directed and continued to direct him to drop the firearm. The man denied being suicidal, although there were signs to the contrary, but also indicated that he was suffering from hallucinations. The officers were not required nor expected to wait to determine whether the man would fire upon them first before they responded. Nor are officers required to use other potential interventions short of lethal force in the face of a threat that very clearly represents a lethal risk to their lives. If the person acting unlawfully objectively appears to be pointing a gun and to have the immediate ability to use it, officers are lawfully entitled to respond with lethal force.
Once the firearm was removed from the affected person’s possession and he was handcuffed, there was no further use of force and emergency medical care was provided almost immediately.
In considering all of the circumstances of this matter, it is the opinion of executive director Susan Hughson, Q.C. that the evidence does not provide reasonable grounds, nor even reasonable suspicion, to believe that any of the three officers committed a Criminal Code offence.
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.
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