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Hearing into woman’s death details drug use, standoff with Victoria police

First week of public hearing into the death of Lisa Rauch portrays lead-up to fatal police response

The first week of the public hearing investigating a police officer’s conduct in the 2019 death of 43-year-old Lisa Rauch — who was shot and killed with an anti-riot weapon — included video footage and testimony from police, firefighters and the resident of the unit where the shooting happened.

Together, the evidence portrayed a drug- and alcohol-fuelled Christmas Day resulting in a heavy police response that ramped up when smoke was seen coming from the apartment window and ended with police bursting through the door in a “stack” formation.

Rauch was inside, allegedly high on methamphetamine and wielding a knife. She was shot in the head with an Anti-Riot Weapon Enfield (ARWEN), which fires plastic, barrel-shaped projectiles.

The projectiles have been described as “less lethal” if used correctly and not directed at the head or neck.

According to testimony, smoke had likely obscured the officer’s vision. Rauch was hit three times in the back of the head and later died from brain injuries.

The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (OPCC) hearing is being held at the request of Rauch’s family and follows investigations by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. (IIO) and the OPCC that both cleared officer Ron Kirkwood of wrongdoing for shooting Rauch.

Rauch had holed up in a Pandora Avenue supportive housing apartment, whose rightful occupant Sylvia Dick had left the unit and contacted building staff to call police, saying Rauch had a knife and was in a “drug psychosis.”

Video evidence was shown from the hallway outside the apartment, as well as footage of police trying to resuscitate Rauch in the courtyard outside the building.

The first day had included opening arguments laying out much of this background information, followed by testimony from the officer in charge when the call to police was made.

Hearing day two

Day two included testimony from Dick, as well as the playing of the video footage, which was accompanied by narration from a police officer.

The footage showed Rauch entering the building shortly after 1:30 p.m. She immediately begins kicking and banging on doors, including suite 311 where Dick lived. Dick testified she had known Rauch for some time, and lets her into the apartment to have a drink.

Over the next few hours, people come and go from the apartment, and methamphetamine was reportedly consumed. Rauch’s mental condition begins to deteriorate.

“Her head started to swirl around, she wasn’t herself,” Dick said.

An argument ensues with several people in the hallway.

More time elapses and Dick comes running out of the unit making a motion as if to say someone inside had a knife. She said it was at this point she contacted staff to call police.

Police show up and temporarily tie off the door to the apartment while they evacuate the surrounding units. The number of police officers and firefighters grows to the point where the hallway is jammed with more than a dozen people.

The video shows police eventually entering the apartment in a “stack” formation. At first, they are taken aback by smoke, but are able to regroup for a second charge.

Less than a minute later, a mass of personnel can be seen backing down the hallway toward the surveillance camera.

They were carrying Rauch, who was taken out into the building’s courtyard, where officers performed CPR.

Hearing day three

On day three, evidence and testimony was given as to why the ARWEN was the weapon chosen.

Const. Cam Stephen is a member of the Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team, and is the police officer who brought the ARWEN to the scene.

He detailed the different response options available to police, and explained the ARWEN is “a great tool to use in a situation like this.”

But Chris Considine, counsel for the OPCC, wanted to know why other options weren’t considered, such as a bean bag shotgun, flash-bang grenades, tear gas or a Taser.

Adjudicator Wally Oppal, a former B.C. attorney general and supreme court justice, wanted to know why police didn’t work their way up to using the ARWEN.

Stephen said he has seen people “walk right through” being shot by a bean bag gun, explaining that those types of weapons are being phased out because of how ineffective they can be.

He also said flash-bang grenades couldn’t be used for fear of injuring Rauch, because police could not see where she was through the smoke.

And tear gas wasn’t used because it would have taken too long to deploy. With an active fire in the unit, he said police needed to respond with urgency.

As for Tasers, Stephen said those are actually a step up in terms of response from the ARWEN.

Hearing day four

On day four of the hearing, two firefighters who were at the scene testified, giving the play-by-play from their perspective, as well as their opinion of the severity of the fire.

The firefighters explained that the smoke wasn’t very dark, indicating a fire that wasn’t very serious and had likely already been hit by sprinklers.

But one of the firefighters also said that if it was more serious, the police wouldn’t have been going into the apartment at all.

Firefighter Thomas Faulkner told the hearing he was in the front of the column of police just behind a police officer with a shield. He was tasked with spraying out the fire with a hose as soon as the group got through the apartment door.

He testified to the poor visibility he encountered.

“I could see maybe a couple feet in front of me,” he said. “It was just dark.”

A police officer who was in the “stack” toward the back of the column testified after the firefighters were finished.

He said he heard something to the effect of “there she is” or “she’s there” before hearing the shots from the ARWEN.

Rauch, unconscious, was removed from the apartment less than a minute later to get her outside so CPR could be performed safely. Police stopped along the way to do an initial assessment, and to put her in handcuffs.

“We placed her in handcuffs quickly just to secure her,” explained Const. Steven Reichert. “But our immediate priority was evacuating this individual down to a higher level of care, which was on the outside of the building.”

After Thursday’s (April 18) testimony, there is a planned break until April 29. The hearing is scheduled to finish on May 10.

READ MORE: Smoke obscured vision, Victoria firefighter says in hearing into woman’s death

About the Author: Mark Page

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