The Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia (IIO) has released a report clearing members of the Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team (GVERT) and the Saanich Police Department involved in the deaths of two bank robbery suspects.
Given that the two suspects responsible for initiating the shooting were shot and killed in the incident and six Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team (GVERT) officers were injured by gunfire, the IIO automatically opened an investigation into the situation.
The report revealed never released information involving the June 28th bank robbery that occurred at the Bank of Montreal (BMO) on Shelbourne Street in Saanich.
To conclude a 10-page report released by IIO Chief Civilian Director Ronald MacDonald, he says, “They were justified in using force to achieve those ends, provided the force used was within the range permitted by the criminal law.”
Events of June 28th
The incident began around 11 a.m. on June 28th when two suspects, twin brothers Mathew and Isaac Auchterlonie from Duncan, pulled their vehicle into the BMO parking lot on the south side of the building at 3616 Shelbourne Street in Saanich.
According to the report, the duo left the vehicle’s trunk slightly open and entered the bank disguised by wearing baggy windbreakers, gloves and black balaclava-style masks.
They both had visible body-armour underneath their windbreakers and wore leg protection, had combat boots on and were armed with a .62 mm calibre SKS semi-automatic rifle with an extended magazine.
In addition to the firearms, one of the two men also had a large black knife on his hip.
The first shot was fired by a suspect upon entry to the bank’s vestibule. A single shot was fired into the ceiling.
Once inside, the brothers corralled the bank customers and employees and walked them toward the bank’s vault. There, they obtained a small amount of cash and according to IIO reports, they appeared disappointed at the amount of money available.
Instead of fleeing the scene, police say they paced around the bank occasionally checking out the windows. It was during this time that police became aware of the bank robbery in progress.
They then spent several minutes pacing around and occasionally looking out through the vestibule windows into the parking lot.
“While there is no ‘typical’ bank robbery, usually persons in this situation would attempt to escape as quickly as possible,” said MacDonald in the IIO report. The suspects did the opposite.
According to police, just 16 minutes after the brothers entered the bank, Saanich Police officers and members of the GVERT were close by when the two men left the bank out the front door, rifles in hand.
They walked toward their parked car as an unmarked police van turned into the parking lot off Shelbourne Street to intercept them.
“A series of dramatic and violent events then occurred in the space of mere seconds,” said the IIO report.
CCTV captures show the IIO that one of the two men raised his rifle at the police van while a member of the GVERT threw a noise flash diversionary device (NFDD or flashbang) at the brothers.
According to police, the intention was to set off the flashbang and stun the brothers, making an arrest easier and safer but instead gunfire was exchanged almost simultaneously with the device’s detonation.
Police say it was impossible to know if they fired first or the brothers did in that moment, but eyewitnesses from across the street say they saw the suspects fire first.
“… as soon as this van opened up, the slide, this guy [one suspect] starts shooting, this guy starts shooting the police and police were falling down, and after that, ‘bang bang’ it goes… it was just terrible,” said the eyewitness.
However, the same eyewitness claimed to have seen the suspect firing from inside the bank’s vestibule, when CCTV footage shows that he was outside.
Police say that an officer with Saanich Police may have taken the first shot in response to the suspect raising his rifle but regardless, the interval between the suspect and the officer firing their weapons was, “very, very short.”
GVERT officers say that as they were prepared to step out of the van as the flashbang detonated, they were shot in immediate succession and fell back into the van only to realize when the shooting had ceased, they were shot multiple times.
“The percussion of each one of them [the gun shots], they were so loud and so close,” said one GVERT officer.
Three officers in the van were shot in the exchange and the one who had thrown the flashbang was the team medic and thus only armed with a pistol, but stepped out in front of his injured colleagues anyway.
Police say the Sergeant driving the van fired 28 rounds from the driver’s seat before exiting the vehicle and continuing to fire from a bush adjacent to the van. He was hit in the foot by a ricocheted police bullet.
The injured GVERT officers from the van exited through the rear and began administering first aid to one another while Saanich Police officers approached to assist in engaging the brothers as well as giving first aid.
One of the brothers was shot in the head by a police bullet and fell to the ground, while the second continued to fire his rifle at the van with officers inside it.
The second brother was struck by several police bullets in the exchange before also collapsing to the ground.
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Civilian eyewitnesses say he tried to crawl away while officers shouted at him, “Drop your weapon.”
A Saanich Police officer reported to the IIO that he saw the suspect’s weapon was damaged and he was crawling toward his fallen comrade’s body where his rifle was. Police engaged the suspect again at this point in time firing additional rounds from their service weapons.
The IIO reports that as soon as the gunfire had ceased, police officers switched gears to help their wounded and transport those who were shot to the hospital in their police vehicles due to safety concerns with having ambulances attend the scene.
Officers then entered the bank to ensure that the customers and employees were safe—no one inside the bank had been injured.
During the investigation of the incident, makeshift explosives, ammunition and a cache of weapons were found in the trunk of the car that had been left slightly ajar.
Police fired just over 100 bullets collectively at the twin brothers and they were found to have three and nine bullet wounds, respectively.
Statement from VicPD and Saanich Police
Following an investigation that took months for the IIO, all officers were found to have acted appropriately in the incident and have been cleared of any wrongdoing in the deaths of the two suspects.
“The events of June 28, 2022 shook our community. Every one of us felt then, and feels now, the impact of that shooting,” Saanich Police Department Chief Dean Duthie said.
“I am truly grateful for the professional, dedicated, and heroic efforts that many Saanich Police officers and Victoria Police officers demonstrated that day under high stress and life-threatening conditions. They put their own lives on the line to save lives, protect innocent people, and restore peace and safety in our community.”
“Oversight by the IIO is a vital part of police accountability and transparency, which is very important to earn and maintain the public’s trust and confidence. Their independent and unbiased review of officers’ decisions and actions that day commends their professionalism, courage, and response.”
“We are pleased that this extensive and thorough investigation report provides information and clarity that affords the public an opportunity to gain a stronger understanding of the dire circumstances that required immediate life-saving actions by responding officers.”
In addition to Saanich Police Chief Dean Duthie, VicPD Chief Del Manak spoke about his officers who were involved in the incident who were also cleared of any wrongdoing in the deaths of the two suspects by the IIO.
— Victoria Police (@vicpdcanada) December 21, 2022
“This report contains detail that paints a clear picture of what our officers faced that day,” VicPD Chief Del Manak said.
“I join Chief Duthie in commending the professionalism and courage of the officers and staff who responded that day and in the days following. This report may be difficult for some people to read, including members of the community who witnessed the event.”
“We continue to provide support for our staff and encourage everyone affected by this incident to access any resources they have available as we continue to heal together as a community.”