Use of Force was Reasonable in CPS-involved Shooting

On Nov. 29, 2016, ASIRT was directed to investigate the circumstances surrounding a Calgary Police Service (CPS) officer-involved shooting that resulted in the death of a 27-year-old woman that day.

The investigation is now complete.

In the early hours of Nov. 29, 2016, multiple people called police about a woman acting erratically outside apartment buildings in the area of 11th Avenue SW and 16th Street. At approximately 2:34 a.m., the first caller phoned the CPS non-emergency line and told police that the woman had been screaming for about 30 minutes, and that it was possible that the woman might be “on something.” The caller advised that the woman had seemed frantic, appeared to be trying to flag down cars, and seemed incoherent. The woman was running back and forth between the street and the sidewalk, and appeared to be trying to get into different apartment buildings. CPS dispatched a marked patrol unit, occupied by two uniformed officers, to the location.

At approximately 2:37 a.m., a second caller reported a woman was running in and around the intersection of 11th Avenue and 16th Street SW, swinging two knives, “going crazy.”  The woman was observed repeatedly climbing onto a cement pillar housing a crosswalk button. She was described as yelling and making grunting noises but not saying anything that could be understood. This caller had initially dialed the non-emergency complaint line but switched to 911 when it became clear that the woman was carrying and swinging two large knives, one in each hand. The caller feared the woman was going to kill somebody, given the way she was acting.

This additional information from the second caller could not be shared with the dispatched officers in the two minutes before they arrived on scene: an incident unfolding elsewhere at the same time became the focus of communication on the officers’ assigned channel, blocking the dispatcher’s ability to pass on the update.

At approximately 2:39 a.m., two officers arrived in a marked police truck. They saw a woman run from the middle of the street to a parked car, hitting the car before running southbound onto 16th Street. She ran from between two parked vehicles to an apartment building’s main entrance. At this point, the officers observed that the woman had two large knives, one in each hand.

The officer in the passenger seat immediately got out of the police vehicle, drew her service firearm, and loudly directed the woman to stop. At the apartment door, the woman could be heard  screaming and panting. Surveillance video from the building recorded the woman raising her right hand above her head, holding the knife in a downward stabbing position. She then stabbed at the door with an overhand motion, audibly striking the building. She held a second large knife in her left hand and she screamed “help” several times.

Immediately thereafter, the woman turned and ran towards the police vehicle in what was described as a sprint, out of view of the building’s security camera. The officer standing outside the police vehicle yelled commands to “drop the knife.”  After the first command, the woman yelled “help” but did not drop the knives and continued moving towards the officers. The same thing happened after the second command to drop the knife.

By this point, the first officer had backed up towards the rear of the police vehicle. When the woman reached the police vehicle, still occupied by the second officer, who was sitting in the driver’s seat, the woman tried to enter the passenger side, still armed. The officer in the driver’s seat heard his partner issuing commands and looked over to see the armed woman turning into the vehicle. This officer described everything happening so quickly that he had no chance to protect himself and genuinely feared for both his and his partner’s safety.

The first officer was about to direct the woman to drop the knife for the fourth time when she saw the woman move towards the interior of the police vehicle and her partner, causing her to fire two shots from her service pistol. The officer could be heard continuing to yell “drop the knife, drop the knife” after the shots were fired.

The woman fell to the ground just outside the police vehicle’s open passenger door. Both officers immediately began administering first aid until Emergency Medical Services arrived to provide critical medical care. Sadly, the woman’s injuries were too significant and she subsequently died.

Upon autopsy, it was confirmed that the woman died as a result of two gunshot wounds. Toxicology confirmed the presence of significant concentrations of methadone and cocaine.

The incident unfolded extremely quickly. From the point that the woman stabbed the apartment door to the time of the shooting, only eight seconds had elapsed. The entire length of the incident, from the time that the officer first exited the vehicle to the time that the second shot was fired was approximately 17 seconds.

Under the Criminal Code, a police officer is authorized to use as much force as is reasonably necessary to perform his or her lawful duties. This can include force intended, or likely to cause, death or grievous bodily harm if the officer reasonably believes that such force is necessary to defend themselves or someone under their protection from imminent death or grievous bodily harm.  Further, any person, including a police officer, is entitled to use reasonable force in self-defence or in defence of another person. Any assessment of the reasonableness of the force used will consider different factors, including the use (or threatened use) of a weapon, the imminence of the threat, other options available and the nature of the force (or threat of force) itself.

The woman’s actions upon police arrival were capable of giving rise to a reasonable fear of death or grievous bodily harm to either officer. Indeed, before police arrived, an independent witness had concerns that the woman was going to kill someone. The woman’s erratic and irrational behavior, combined with the fact that she was armed and didn’t comply with the repeated verbal commands of the uniformed police officer, created significant danger for both the officers and any other member of the public that might have been in the area. As she ran at the officers and the marked police vehicle — and came into extremely close proximity to the officer seated inside — the imminence of the threat increased.

It is clear the woman was in some form of crisis, and it is impossible to know what might have been going on in her mind. The tragedy remains, however, that in this state she was dangerous and unpredictable. Given her state, the speed with which the situation deteriorated, her apparent irrationality, her close proximity, and her failure to respond to clear simple commands while armed with weapons capable of lethal injury, the officer had no other reasonable options to address the immediate threat.

The officers were lawfully placed and had both the grounds and the lawful authority to take the woman into custody. Equally, if not more importantly, the officers had a duty to intervene because the woman, in these circumstances, presented a significant risk to both the lives and safety of anyone she might encounter, and herself. The woman’s actions upon police arrival placed the officers in an untenable situation capable of giving rise to a reasonable fear of death or grievous bodily harm. With all factors and the relevant law taken into account, the force used by the officer can be viewed as objectively reasonable in the circumstances. There being no reasonable grounds to believe that an offence was committed by any of the involved officers, no charges will be laid.

Regardless of these findings, this was a tragic loss for those who loved her. This woman had a family and friends. A determination that her death was not criminal does not lessen the magnitude of their loss or the tragedy of her death. The death of this woman was not the outcome anyone, including the involved officers, wanted or expected when police responded to the call. ASIRT extends its sincere condolences to the family and friends of this woman, as they continue to deal with their loss.