Yesterday the IIO’s Chief Civilian Director (CCD) Ron MacDonald released his conclusions into the circumstance of a police involved fatal shooting near Slocan, BC on October 13, 2014.
Yes you read that right, 2014.
The Commanding Officer of the RCMP in BC, Deputy Commissioner Brenda Butterworth-Carr promptly released a statement decrying the long delay.
“The protracted nature of this review is unacceptable,” she said.
The incident involved a manhunt in the mountains of the back country near Slocan, the town itself in lockdown for nearly five days. Think of it as a mini-Boston in the hours after the marathon bombings. Where this started was the police attending a rural location to investigate a dispute/possible assault call. They were met with an armed man who exchanged shots with police and fled into the back country.
She continued, “This was a dynamic and dramatic series of events that has forever changed the police officers involved, a community and a family which lost a loved one. The techniques used and the resulting time delays in determining the circumstances compounded the trauma and severely limited the ability of many to move forward. The police officers were consistent in their participation in the IIO BC investigation and remained professional throughout the lengthy process. However, the delays have contributed unnecessarily to a state of extended uncertainty and stress that could have been avoided.”
In his final report on the case, MacDonald, the newly appointed CCD said this: “This investigation has taken an unfortunate length of time. This resulted from operational pressures within the IIO, the complexity of the evidence, and the necessity of seeking and awaiting several expert reports. Overall the process took much longer than anticipated. Throughout, the emphasis was placed on attempting to uncover all relevant and reliable evidence before reaching a conclusion. In addition, this case required continual diligence to avoid a premature conclusion based on incomplete evidence.”
He goes on, “While it is unfortunate that the delays experienced during the course this matter left Officers 1 and 2 (the ERT officers) and the family of AP (Affected Person) in a state of uncertainty for over three years, at the end of the day I consider that the final result herein is the correct one.”
The main part of the problem, in reading the report, was an error made by the primary pathologist who conducted the autopsy. He mistakenly identified an exit wound in the back as an entry wound and the entry wound in the neck as an exit wound. This did not corroborate what the RCMP members said happened.
In a nutshell, that would have suggested the suspect had his back turned to the ERT officer who fired the fatal and only shot. Yet the reverse totally corroborated their version of events.
The family had their own pathologist review the case and he came to a different conclusion which wound as entry and which was exit but initially the family would not share the report with the IIO.
That prompted a review by another pathologist hired by the IIO. Evidently, he concluded that in entry wounds there exists a micro-tearing of the skin which is the actual entry wound and this tearing was present in the neck wound which made that the entry wound and corroborated the statement made by the ERT officer to the IIO.
The other problem is the first pathologist said the wounds were caused by a “small calibre bullet with a low velocity.” Well, except the RCMP ERT use a Colt M-16 which fires a larger calibre 5.56X45 mm NATO bullet at a rate of approximately 3,000 feet per second, hardly a “low velocity.”
To be fair, a pathologist in that part of the world likely doesn’t see a lot of GSWs. (Gunshot wounds) Which also begs the question, given the dichotomy on their hands, why wouldn’t they seek a review by a more experienced pathologist who sees lots of GSWs?
To their credit, the IIO recognized the problem and sought the review of another pathologist. Not to their credit they waited from October 2014 until August 2017 before they did this. Why is anyone’s guess.
In the interim they also hired a biomechanical engineer to try and determine the position of the suspect when shot. In my opinion, this not only overly complicated things but contributed much to the delay of the investigation.
At the end of it all, they new CCD came to the right conclusion and issued his report clearing the ERT officer who fired the fatal shot. But the delay, as Butterworth-Carr said, is unacceptable.
MacDonald seems to recognize this and since he started he has concluded 16 investigations hanging around from 2015, 2016 and 2017. He has also referred two files to the Criminal Justice Branch to determine if any criminal charges are applicable.
That’s very promising and diametrically opposed to what we have come to expect from the IIO.
When I asked the IIO for comment on all of this, Marten Youssef, the Director of Public Engagement said, “The CCD chose to let his decision speak for its self and therefore didn’t issue a separate statement. As CO Butterworth-Carr said, her and the CCD have been in contact in the past on this matter and he shares her view on the length of this investigation. This was also expressed in the decision.”
When asked about the sea change in concluding files, Youssef said this, “As for the change at the IIO, there is no doubt it is being spearheaded by Ron and his leadership. That said, the CCD is a firm believer that the change is a result of the collective effort and hard work by staff. He has also stated that he is devoting his focus to improving the future of the IIO as opposed to being defined by the past.”
That is encouraging.