CONTENT WARNING: The following article contains details of gun violence and death.
In July 2022, a man died at the hands of a police officer who has now been cleared of any wrongdoing by the Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia (IIO).
On the afternoon of July 23rd, a police officer responded to a call of a domestic dispute occurring inside a vehicle that was stopped in the middle of the road in the southern region of Nanaimo.
An altercation took place upon the police officer’s arrival that involved the man wielding a replica pistol that was assumed to be a real firearm. The man was shot by the officer and pronounced dead from his wounds.
What happened on July 23rd, 2022
According to an IIO report released on February 8th, a witness told investigators that at around 2 p.m. on July 23rd, 2022, she was on her way to pick up the man who would soon be involved in an altercation with the police. She said he had been suffering from mental health issues and had been resorting to heavy drinking as a result.
The witness drank one beer with the man, and returned to her vehicle after he produced a bottle of rum that was three quarters full.
Once the man had rejoined her in the vehicle, she began driving and soon thereafter, a verbal disagreement started between the duo.
The witness told the IIO that the man was accusing her of things which prompted her to stop the vehicle and tried to get him to leave the car. The man refused and she attempted to dial 911 as a result. At this point, the man grabbed the phone out of her hands and punched her in the arm.
The IIO says that the man then took hold of the steering wheel and placed his foot on the gas pedal from the passenger side of the vehicle, according to the witness. During the calamity, she was able to successfully dial 911 and report that he had assaulted her.
While speaking with police, the witness informed them of the man’s mentally unwell state of mind, telling them he should be “committed to hospital.”
Several other witness accounts recall seeing the vehicle stopped in the middle of the road with the witness in the vehicle showing signs of distress and hanging out of the driver’s window, waving her arms and shouting, “Help me, help me.”
Shortly after the incident was called in by the woman, as well as other witnesses, a police officer arrived at the scene.
The Nanaimo RCMP officer reportedly parked his cruiser nose-to-nose with the vehicle parked in the middle of the road.
Witness accounts report that the man stepped out of the vehicle at this time holding his backpack. He approached the police vehicle and started swinging the backpack at the closed driver’s side door.
The officer put his vehicle into reverse, then drove forward with the man following him with his bag still in-hand.
During this part of the incident the police officer was recorded on Nanaimo’s dispatch requesting backup and saying, “Hold on, he’s coming like running right at me. I’m reversing. This guy’s… mental.”
The police officer then wound down his window and grabbed the man before realizing he had pulled out a handgun that he was aiming at the officer.
On the dispatch recording, the witness who had been with the man could be heard saying to the officer, “Oh my God, what are you doing? He’s got a fake gun, he’s got a pellet gun.”
The witness then saw the officer struggle to get the man into a headlock while hanging halfway out his driver’s side window. The man in the headlock was seen holding the gun above his head, which was still aimed downward at the police officer.
The witness was unable to pull the man away from the officer at this time.
While holding onto the man through his window, the officer was able to retrieve his own service weapon from his belt and was aiming it at the man’s neck area, according to the witness.
The witness told the IIO that she heard gunshots and ran away to the rear of the police vehicle to hide.
The police officer was recorded by dispatch after shooting the man saying, “shots fired, shots fired. I’m okay. Multiple shots fired. This guy is dead. I need help right now. I’m hanging on my car. I’m hanging on this guy. Just come here please.”
The incident’s aftermath
Shortly after the officer fired the fatal shots at the man, an additional Nanaimo RCMP officer arrived at the scene and found the officer still in the driver’s seat, but still hanging halfway out the vehicle’s window. He was still holding onto the man who had been shot.
The officer told his backup there was a gun but they were unable to find the weapon initially. The backup officer then went to deal with the witness who had moved to sit beside her vehicle which was still parked in the middle of the road.
The backup officer told the IIO that the witness had told him, “I think he wanted to die,” while speaking about the man who had been shot. She had expressed the same thoughts to the 911 dispatch officer she had been speaking to near the end of their call.
A second backup officer was able to find the man’s weapon pinned between his body and the police cruiser’s door. Assuming the firearm was real, the police officer attempted to make the weapon safe by “working the slide,” but could not manage to work it, so he placed the weapon on the ground to be photographed and taken into evidence.
Once the firearm was secured, the officer who initially responded was finally able to let go of the man’s body and exit his vehicle.
The officer had blood traces on his face, uniform and service weapon that were all photographed, analyzed and taken into evidence.
The officer told his backup that he thought he was going to die in the altercation. The witness who remained at the scene and was taken to the police station to give a statement told the Nanaimo RCMP, “there was no doubt [the officer] shot in self-defence. He felt threatened.”
Upon scene examination, six 9 mm bullet casings were recovered that had been shot by the officer and the man’s weapon in which he had aimed at the officer was discovered to be a pellet gun that appeared to be a Beretta 92FS semi-automatic pistol.
The man’s autopsy showed that he died of five gunshot wounds to his chest and his toxicology report showed moderate to heavy alcohol consumption at the time of death.
The IIO’s conclusion
The IIO has completed their investigation into the incident and have cleared the Nanaimo RCMP officer who shot the man of any wrongdoing.
“In a case such as this one, involving the use of lethal force by an officer, one of the threads of the IIO investigation will be the gathering of evidence about potential justifications for that use of force,” said Ronald MacDonald, Chief Civilian Director of the IIO.
The Chief Civilian Director has found that the officer’s actions in this situation was, “necessary for the self-preservation of [the officer] or the preservation of any one under [the officer’s] protection from death or grievous bodily harm.”
“The analysis of this incident is not complicated, and the conclusion is plain,” said MacDonald.
“[The officer] was in lawful execution of his duty, responding to 911 calls about a woman being assaulted.”
“[The man] produced and pointed what had every appearance of being a deadly weapon. At that point, it was absolutely reasonable for SO to believe that he was in imminent danger of grievous bodily harm or death, and was justified in using lethal force in self-defence.”
“I do not consider that there are reasonable grounds to believe that an officer may have committed an offence under any enactment and therefore the matter will not be referred to Crown counsel for consideration of charges,” concluded MacDonald.