After the first week of testimony in the charge of careless use of a firearm against Cranbrook Cst. Rick Drought, a 15 year veteran of the RCMP at the time, I am still left wondering why this charge has been laid in the first place. A week into it and I have no inkling what it is the Crown thinks it can prove that adds up to criminal behaviour.
What’s even more puzzling is that when the charge against Drought was first announced on August 8, 2013, the charge was ‘intentionally discharging a firearm into a motor vehicle knowing a person was in the vehicle and intentionally discharging a firearm while being reckless as to the life and safety of another person.’
Those charges were new to the Criminal Code in 2009 and were designed to prosecute gang shootings not police officers in the execution of their duty. It carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison for each count. In the government background announcing the amendments it specifically said, “One of the main purposes of the bill is to facilitate the battle against organized crime, and to that end, it amends the Criminal Code.”
So, with that in mind, let’s have a look at the facts in the case.
In the early morning hours of Oct. 2nd, 2012, 25-yr-old career criminal Nicholas John Bullock, accompanied by his 17-yr-old girlfriend, violently carjacked two folks driving a white Chevy Malibu in the parking lot of the Coquitlam Superstore.
They drove the car until they ran out of gas outside of Yahk, BC. They flagged down a passing motorist and promptly violently carjacked the hapless good Samaritan. They then drove towards Cranbrook, BC where Mounties were responding to the reported carjacking. It should be noted they believed the suspect was armed. Cst. Drought took up the pursuit in the area of Elizabeth Lake.
The suspect drove the hijacked Toyota 4 Runner into the woods on a rural acreage at the top of Victoria Avenue. Drought got out of his police car likely believing the suspects would abandon the vehicle and try to lose their pursuer in the woods.
He had only moved a short distance in front of his cruiser when the SUV came out of the woods lit up and accelerating right at the police officer. He reacted in the blink of an eye. In the space of 2.5 seconds Drought fired nine shots into the vehicle, seven through the windscreen and two through the passenger side window as he sidestepped the vehicle according to the firearms investigator who testified.
Clearly, Drought feared for his life.
Three of his shots hit the suspect, one in the upper body and two in the left wrist and he was taken into custody. Bullock would later plead guilty to a number of charges and was essentially sentenced to two years less a day after time served was taken into consideration. He has a lengthy criminal record dating back to 2005 for a host of offences including robbery.
One would think that would be the end of things. But not so for police officers in British Columbia since the inception of the Independent Investigations Office (IIO).
Sherman Mah from the IIO testified on Thursday that he estimated the distance between Drought and the SUV when he began shooting was approximately 14 metres or about 45 feet. He didn’t actually take any measurements because he said this was only their second case and they didn’t have the ability to transport any equipment from Vancouver or frankly, any equipment to transport. No, really, he actually said that.
So what did he do? Well, he used a diagram provided by the RCMP and super-imposed that over a printout from Google Earth. You can’t make this stuff up.
The next day, the scene was reconstructed for the jury – yes, this is a jury trial – and the distance appeared to be much less. Much, much less, apparently, somewhere between five and six metres or about 20 feet.We won’t know the specific distance until the RCMP crime scene folks testify, but let’s call it 20 feet, give or take. So, the car was travelling at about 30 KPH and accelerating towards the officer. How much time would you think it would take to cover that 20 feet?
Drought reacted as anyone would facing that threat would and fired his weapon, all shots hitting in the driver’s compartment as intended. Bullock told the IIO investigators that he wasn’t really going to run over the officer, but he understood why the officer fired.
The IIO investigators who conducted the investigation were surprised that the Chief Civilian Director, Richard Rosenthal, forwarded the case to Crown. The CCD does this whenever he feels a crime MAY have been committed. This is a dangerously low threshold to meet and normally common sense takes hold and no charges are laid. In this case common sense left the room and a Senior Crown Counsel in Victoria overrode local Crown Counsel and laid the ridiculous charge against a police officer in the execution of his duty that was intended by Parliament for use against gang bangers doing drive-bys.
This is a war on police not civilian oversight as envisioned by the government resulting from the flawed Braidwood Inquiry.
At some point the ridiculousness of this charge must have dawned on someone at Criminal Justice Branch and the charge was amended to “Careless use or storage of a weapon,” under section 86 of the Criminal Code.
To prove this charge the Crown must establish that the accused’s conduct “constitutes a marked departure from the standard of care of a reasonably prudent person.” Wait, what?
Yup, this charge is aimed at the average owner of a firearm who contravenes a regulation under paragraph 117 (h) of the Firearms Act.
This is nuts. Drought has been off duty on administrative leave for three years, still earning his salary but providing no benefit to the citizens of Cranbrook who pay that salary. For what? To try and prove some nebulous, chicken-shit charge that relates to bureaucratic regulations?
Police officers are authorized to use force, including lethal force, to do their duty. They may use lethal force if they feel their life or that of another is in danger. But, the same criminal code that gives a police officer this power also holds them accountable in Section 26 which states: “Every one who is authorized by law to use force is criminally responsible for any excess thereof according to the nature and quality of the act that constitutes the excess.”
The test in this or any other case facing IIO investigators should simply be this: Did the officer perceive he or she was in danger? Was he or she entitled to use lethal force? Was the force used excessive in the circumstances?
That’s it. That is the role envisioned for the IIO. Rosenthal has seemingly made it his role to use whatever tools at his disposal to go after scalps of cops.
The trial in Cranbrook against Drought is scheduled to run another week and a half before it goes to the jury. What an absolute waste of time and money. Not to mention the toll it has taken on yet another cop in BC just trying to do his job.
One can almost hear the strains of Judy Collins singing, “Send in the clowns.”