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Victoria officer was 15 feet away when he fired weapon that killed a woman

Lisa Rauch, 43, died after being shot by ‘less lethal’ rounds fired by the officer
The Pandora Avenue building where Lisa Rauch was shot with ARWEN rounds by police on Christmas Day of 2019. Officers decided to act when smoke was seen coming out of the unit window. (Mark Page/News Staff)

The Victoria police officer, who fired the “less lethal” weapon that killed a woman Christmas Day, 2019, went from emotional and reflective to testy and confrontational during cross-examination Thursday (May 2).

Lisa Rauch, 43, had holed up in a supportive housing unit on Pandora Avenue on that afternoon in 2019, allegedly high on methamphetamine and wielding a knife. She died after being hit with rounds from an Anti-Riot Weapon Enfield (ARWEN) rifle, fired by officer Ron Kirkwood.

Kirkwood said he was about 15 feet away when he took the shot. Chris Considine, counsel for the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (OPCC), asked why he took the shot if Rauch was far enough away she could not hurt the officers with a knife.

“Surely though, before you take a shot at somebody with either an ARWEN or a pistol in those circumstances,” Considine asked, “you can then say to them, ‘drop whatever you have in your hands, show your hands, get on the ground.’”

Kirkwood’s tone became exasperated.

“Yes, if there’s time to do that,” he responded. “But there wasn’t, the apartment was on fire.”

The unit’s rightful resident had summoned police and reported Rauch had a knife. Because of this, police had responded considering Rauch a threat to cause “grievous bodily harm or death.” Kirkwood testified that even though he couldn’t see the knife, he had to assume it was still in her possession.

Smoke was also seen coming from the apartment window, increasing the risk to police and others in the building. This was the reason officers decided to take action instead of allowing crisis negotiators to try to talk Rauch out.

But Considine referenced earlier testimony by firefighters who entered the unit with Kirkwood, who had said they were able to put the fire out fairly quickly.

Considine pressed Kirkwood on whether the fire was still a threat.

“That was your perception,” Considine said.

“No, it’s the perceptions of all of the police officers that were on scene,” responded Kirkwood.

“Not the fire department, obviously,” Considine said.

The public hearing is being held at the request of Rauch’s family. Kirkwood has already been cleared by two inquiries, one by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. and one by the OPCC. Neither of those processes were public, however.

It is not a criminal trial, and the two charges against Kirkwood — abuse of authority and neglect of duty for failure to take proper notes — carry penalties ranging from a reprimand to dismissal.

The public process provides a measure of accountability for Rauch’s family, and an opportunity for Kirkwood to clear his name.

Though this hearing does not follow all the same procedures as a criminal trial, Kirkwood was still testifying voluntarily, and was called to the stand by his own counsel.

He gave an emotional account of how Rauch’s death has impacted him and his family, as well as his reaction in the moments and hours afterward.

“I remember feeling like I couldn’t breathe,” he told the hearing. “The impact of this has been immediate and profound and long lasting for me, it has been absolutely horrible.”

His testimony brought clarity to some of the established narrative, but also cast doubt on parts.

Kirkwood said that when he entered the unit, he saw Rauch move from one side of the room to the other, but could not get the ARWEN ready in time to take a shot while he had a clear look at her.

He said that as he followed her movements he thought he was looking at her stomach and it was safe to take a shot — or at least, he did not think he was aiming at her head and that the shot could therefore be lethal.

“In what seemed like half a second or a second later I see what I believe is Ms. Rauch standing where I saw her stop walking,” He said. “And I can’t see her head but what I can see is what I believe to be her stomach and upper torso from say, her clavicle to just below her belt line.”

He also explained that this was not the first time he had used the ARWEN, and that in every other circumstance, the person was not badly injured by its use.

His testimony then diverged from some the other narratives heard at the hearing, particularly on the seriousness of the fire.

“As I look into the suite, I’m quite taken aback,” Kirkwood said. “The room is filled with black smoke.”

Firefighters had said previously in the hearing that the air was partially “scrubbed” by the sprinkler system, and that the smoke was lighter in colour. The firefighter who went in first to actually spray out the fire also said it was a small fire and was extinguished fairly easily.

But Kirkwood said the fire jumped back up again, and that this indicated to him an accelerant may have been used.

No fire investigation was done.

Another point laboured over during his testimony was why he failed to take notes after the fact, and instead took advice of counsel that his charter rights took precedent over note-taking policy because those notes could be used against him in a criminal investigation, should it come to that.

This runs counter to established law, but Kirkwood testified that is the advice he received.

This hearing could result in recommendations by the OPCC to clarify the rules and procedures for note-taking in similar situations.

Further testimony on the Victoria Police Department’s note-taking policies is expected on Friday, May 3. The hearing will then adjourn until May 8, when Kirkwood’s counsel will continue to call witnesses.

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About the Author: Mark Page

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