Lethbridge, Alberta – The Lethbridge Police Service (LPS) recently received and has now reviewed the professional misconduct investigation conducted by the Medicine Hat Police Service into a high-profile response to reports of a person carrying a firearm.
Around 11 a.m., on Monday, May 4, 2020, two different people called 9-1-1 to report a person dressed as a Storm Trooper who they believed was carrying a real firearm in the 500-block of 13 Street North. Three officers responded immediately and saw that the person was carrying what appeared from a distance to be a black gun.
Two of the three officers drew their weapons, but they were not aimed at the person. A number of verbal commands were issued to drop the weapon, move away from it and lay face down on the pavement. While the person did drop the weapon, step back and eventually kneel down, they appeared non-responsive to subsequent demands and there was a belief the person might be searching for a path to escape.
One of the officers approached the person from behind, grasped the upper back plate of the costume and forced them to the ground in a controlled movement. The other two officers moved in to assist with the arrest and the person was handcuffed and the mask removed.
Only then were the officers able to safely determine the reported weapon was not a real weapon and that the subject was a female employee promoting a Star Wars-themed restaurant. The employee suffered a nosebleed in the incident.
The whole incident took two minutes and twenty seconds to unfold between the officers’ arrival and the woman being taken into custody.
“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,” said Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh. “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.”
On May 11, 2020, the Medicine Hat Police Service was directed by the provincial Director of Law Enforcement to conduct a criminal investigation into the Lethbridge Police Service response to the incident. Upon completion, it was reviewed by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) and the Crown Prosecution Service was consulted. It was determined there were no grounds for criminal charges against the three LPS officers.
In January 2021, LPS requested that the Medicine Hat Police Service carry out a professional misconduct investigation into the matter, to avoid any perceptions of bias or conflict of interest.
The Medicine Hat Police Service conducted an investigation to determine whether any of the three officers committed any kind of misconduct under the Alberta Police Act.
The investigators reviewed a wide range of evidence including earlier reports, statements from the officers and witnesses, photographs and videos, 9-1-1 phone calls, radio transmissions, relevant LPS policies, and applicable laws.
After reviewing the 250-page report by investigators, LPS Chief Mehdizadeh has found no officers are guilty of misconduct for the following reasons:
· Upon arrival at the scene the officers confirmed the subject of the 9-1-1 calls from two citizens was carrying what appeared to be a black gun. The subject was alone in the parking lot with no signs, music or activity to suggest the officers should not take seriously the potential threat that was reported. As such they were obliged to investigate and assess the reported threat as it was relayed to them, for the safety of bystanders, themselves and the person in the costume.
· The officers’ actions were consistent with use of force policies and the proper protocol to respond to calls involving potential firearms in a tactically-safe manner for everyone involved.
· The elapsed time from the arrival of the first LPS officer on the scene, to the subject being placed in a prone position was just two minutes and 20 seconds. The time from the subject being prone on the pavement to standing with the handcuffs removed, was two minutes and 45 seconds.
“The officers were lawfully placed in response to a 9-1-1 call and they handled the threat to which they were dispatched in a measured and prudent way, especially considering that they had a credible basis for very real concerns that the person was holding a firearm in a very public area,” said Chief Mehdizadeh. ”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. Once they observed the threat was not as it was reported, they immediately disengaged and offered the woman help”
“The finding that the officers acted appropriately given the circumstances does not make this incident less traumatic for those involved,” adds Chief Mehdizadeh. “We do acknowledge the stress and confusion endured by the young woman in the costume, through no fault of her own. I am satisfied, however, that our officers, operating in the face of their own stressful circumstances, did everything in their power to minimize the impact of this event.”
The Chief’s disposition of the investigation has been forwarded to the provincial Director of Law Enforcement.
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