On Jan. 24, 2016, the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) was directed by the Director of Law Enforcement to investigate the circumstances surrounding an officer-involved shooting resulting in the death of a 53-year-old man.
On that date, at approximately 4:35 p.m., as a Calgary Transit bus driver proceeded into the lane of travel westbound on 78 Avenue NW, having picked up a passenger, the driver’s side window of the bus shattered and the driver was hit in the face with flying glass. The driver pulled the bus quickly over to the curb and observed a bullet hole in the window and a bullet lying on the floor by his feet. He contacted his dispatcher and at 4:37 p.m., and the Calgary Police Service (CPS) received the complaint of a gunshot hitting the bus.
CPS patrol units quickly responded to the area and soon determined that the bullet had come from a particular residence in Huntington Hills, where bullet holes were observed in the front window of the residence and further shots could be heard being fired from inside this residence.
CPS officers immediately surrounded the home and waited for assistance from canine, tactical support, and the Calgary police helicopter, HAWCS. While officers were positioning themselves at the rear of the home, a man was observed sitting in the rear doorway of the residence. Police called out “Calgary Police, show me your hands” but the man did not respond and instead retreated into the residence and closed the door.
Over the next 90 minutes the man continued to fire bullets out of the residence through the front and rear windows, as well as the roof and walls. Officers heard shots fly by their locations and observed nearby homes being hit by bullets. To protect residents of the area, the HAWCS helicopter was used to broadcast directions to the residents to remain in their homes and take shelter in their basements until further notice. CPS also started a phone campaign, contacting the residents to ensure they stayed in their basements.
At 6:02 p.m., after further shots were fired from inside the residence, police determined that a tactical response would be necessary. After attempts at communication with the man failed, an emergency plan was made indicating the next time shots were fired from inside the residence, tactical members would fire tear gas inside. After further shots were fired, tear gas canisters were sent into the residence through the front and rear windows.
Moments later the rear door was observed to open and a tactical member advised over radio that a man was coming out low and had a firearm in his hands. At the rear of the residence, the man, seated in a wheelchair, fired what was believed to be two rounds from his handgun. In response, two officers, located to the southwest of the rear of the residence, fired rounds from their C8 carbine rifles. At the same time, a tactical member, located on the roof of a garage to the south, fired three rounds from a .308 tactical rifle. The man sustained a single gunshot wound to the head. Based on the whole of the evidence, it is a reasonable inference that the last shot fired by the tactical member, which was also the final shot fired in the incident, was the cause of death.
An examination of the scene located over 30 bullets holes in the windows, walls, and roof of the man’s residence as a result of shots fired from inside the residence. Additionally, examination of the area surrounding the residence confirmed that bullets fired from the residence actually struck other publicly accessible property including the bus window, nearby houses, fences, and a trailer in the area.
After the shooting, the man’s handgun was found to contain two live rounds and four shell casings indicating that four shots had been fired, consistent with the man having fired two shots just prior to the deployment of the gas and the additional two shots once he exited the residence.
At the time of his death, the 53-year-old man, a lower body quadriplegic as a result of a prior accident, used a wheelchair and had limited use of his hands. In the months leading up to his death, he had been struggling physically, emotionally, and financially. He had started using more pain medication than prescribed and had suffered the loss of his beloved pet, his constant companion, approximately one week before the critical incident. He became increasingly more despondent.
On the date of the incident, the man phoned a family member and said that his house was surrounded by police and that he had a gun. He said goodbye and hung up the phone. Distressed, the family member phoned a friend and voluntary care-giver to the man and asked her to talk to him. When the friend immediately phoned and asked the man what was going on, he replied, “You know what is going on. The place is surrounded by police.” He indicated “I will not go back to the hospital. They did not help me.” She told him that she was going to go over there to talk to him and he replied, “No. If you come over I will shoot you”. She said, “You wouldn’t do that” and he replied, “Yes I would.” He then said “goodbye” and hung up the phone.
Recovered from inside the residence was an envelope with handwriting on the face of it. On the envelope, there appeared to be a reference to the date and time of the dog’s death, a separate disjointed sentence that was possibly a reference to a belief that he was being stalked and spied on by the authorities, and lastly, a notation dated January 21, 2016, three days before the incident, about whom his belongings should go to “in my death”.
This was, without doubt, one of the more harrowing critical incidents that ASIRT has been called in to investigate. Without the actions taken by CPS, combined with sheer good luck, the potential for a civilian or police officer to be seriously injured or killed would have been extremely high. Whether it was his intention to cause harm, the man’s shots came perilously close to striking the bus driver, officers, and potential residents in the area. Notwithstanding his disability, the evidence demonstrates that not only was the man capable of using a firearm, he was capable of targeting officers and areas where officers were sheltered. Having exercised restraint for over an hour in the hopes that there might be a peaceful resolution of the incident, the tactical decision that the man could not be allowed to continue firing shots from the residence and that a proactive tactical response was required was more than reasonable. Every shot that the man fired and every moment that passed increased the potential for serious harm or death to anyone in the vicinity.
Indeed, the officers all exercised reasonable restraint and did not fire upon the man until he fired upon them. The decision to act on the provided authorization from supervisors to use lethal force was made during that last critical moment when it became clear the man was not surrendering. It cannot be said that the officers casually or prematurely resorted to the use of lethal force, as it only occurred when the man placed the officers in the untenable position where they were left with no other alternative. Both objectively and subjectively, the conduct of the man constituted an extremely high risk of death or grievous bodily harm to both police and civilians. Evidence found at the scene and information provided by witnesses support a reasonable inference that the man pursued this critical incident to its inevitable conclusion and that he was, at a minimum, extremely reckless as to whether anyone else would get hurt in the process.
ASIRT Executive Director, Susan D. Hughson, Q.C., received the completed ASIRT investigation and after a careful review of the evidence has confirmed that the officers involved were lawfully placed and in lawful execution of their duties.
There are no reasonable grounds to believe CPS officers committed any criminal offences in relation to this matter. Indeed, as tragic as it was that a life would be lost that day, the fact the incident was resolved without any other injury or loss of life is the direct result of the steps taken by CPS and these officers to contain the threat, minimize the risk as much as possible, and, ultimately, protect the community. Given the circumstances, the actions of all the officers on scene, were both reasonable and justified in law.
This finding in no way diminishes the tragedy of this event and the fact that a family has been left grieving the loss of their loved one. On behalf of ASIRT, the Executive Director extends condolences to the family and friends of the deceased in relation to this tragic event.
ASIRT’s mandate is to effectively, independently, and objectively investigate incidents involving Alberta’s police that have resulted in serious injury or death to any person, as well as serious or sensitive allegations of police misconduct.