Gateway Gazette

Calgary Officer Acted Lawfully in 2016 Shooting

On Oct. 11, 2016, ASIRT was directed to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of a 76-year-old man following an interaction with members of the Calgary Police Service (CPS) that day.

At 11 a.m. that day, CPS received a 911 call originating from a Calgary home, initially consisting solely of screaming. However, several minutes later, the caller indicated that his grandfather was trying to kill him with a hammer. CPS units arrived on scene and found the caller, an adult man, outside the residence, naked and suffering from head trauma. The caller told police that his grandfather had attacked him with a hammer, and he had stabbed his grandfather with a knife in self-defence.

Additional officers arrived and fanned out to contain the residence. At the rear of the home, officers noticed blood on a wall and on the floor, and heard a loud mechanical sound coming from the detached garage. Officers could see a man, covered in blood, through the window on the side of the garage. Officers tried to get into the garage, but ultimately had to force open the pedestrian door.  Two officers entered the garage, one slightly ahead of the other. Inside, someone had turned on a table saw, and a vehicle was idling with a section of dryer hose running from the exhaust pipe and into a window of the vehicle.

What happened next occurred in a matter of seconds. The man turned towards the officers as they came in, and they could see him holding a large knife in his right hand. Officers shouted repeated commands for the man to drop the knife, but he didn’t comply. The second officer began to step back to create more distance but tripped and fell to the ground. The first officer, closer to the man, fired a single round from his service pistol, which struck the man in the torso. Following the shot, the man fell to the floor. CPS members administered first aid until EMS arrived. Paramedics provided emergency treatment but the man died at the scene.

Investigators recovered the man’s knife from the floor of the garage where he fell. A search of the man’s residence revealed notes, some that could be described as suicide notes, along with a journal detailing the man’s mounting frustration with aspects of his life — his health, continuing conflict in his home and the deterioration of his relationship with his grandson. Significantly, there was a note that described the man’s plan to attack his grandson with a hammer and then kill himself by carbon monoxide poisoning inside the garage. It was evident that the man did not intend to survive the events that occurred that day.

Interviews with those who knew the man confirmed his growing frustration and his declining physical and mental health. In the weeks before this incident, the man had been hospitalized for a head injury. One witness described a conversation in which the man repeated his plan to confront his grandson with a hammer and to end his own life. Although concerning, the witness thought this was just talk and an opportunity for the man to vent his frustration and unhappiness to a friend. The man had no prior criminal record. Information obtained by ASIRT suggested this event was totally out of character for this man.

An autopsy determined the sole cause of death was a single gunshot wound to the torso. Numerous sharp force injuries consistent with stab wounds were observed, but not believed to have contributed to cause of death.

Conclusions

CPS officers were responding to a serious assault involving the use of a weapon. Based on the information available to them, they were lawfully placed to arrest the man. Observing a man covered in blood and suffering from an injury gave officers grounds to enter the detached garage under exigent circumstances. Upon entering, officers were confronted by a male holding a large knife. Repeated verbal commands to drop the knife preceded their use of force.

Under the Criminal Code, an officer is entitled to use as much force as necessary in the lawful execution of his or her duties. This can include force that is intended (or likely) to cause death or grievous bodily harm, when the officer reasonably believes that such force is necessary to defend themselves or someone else from death or grievous bodily harm. Further, any person, including a police officer, is entitled to the use of reasonable force in defence of themselves or others.

The situation faced by the officers upon entering the garage was capable of giving rise to a reasonable fear of death or grievous bodily harm to both officers. The man encountered in the garage had been reportedly involved in a violent incident, was armed with a large knife and was non-compliant and suicidal. When the witness officer tripped and fell while trying to retreat, the alternative courses of action available to the first officer were substantially reduced, and the imminence of the threat increased. The use of force by the subject officers was reasonable when viewing the incident as a whole: the nature of the offence being investigated, the involvement of a weapon in that potential offence, the physical possession of another weapon, the non-compliance with verbal commands, and the physical position of the officers.

ASIRT executive director Susan D. Hughson, QC, has found that the evidence supports the finding that there are no grounds to believe that the officer committed an offence. The subject officer was lawfully placed both to enter the garage and to arrest the man. Given the events after the officer entered the garage, the force he used was reasonable in the circumstances. There being no reasonable grounds to believe that an offence was committed, no charges will be laid.

This was a sad and devastating event for the family and friends of the man, for many reasons, and ASIRT continues to extend its condolences to all those affected by these events.

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