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Victoria police officer questioned on force options in death of woman

Public hearing investigating 2019 death of Lisa Rauch continues with day three testimony from police
A Victoria police officer testified in a hearing investigating the 2019 death of Lisa Rauch. (Black Press Media file photo)

A police officer from the Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team testified on day three of the public hearing inquiring into the death of Lisa Rauch as to why the “intermediate” weapon that caused her death was chosen.

“That’s a great tool to use in a situation like this,” Const. Cam Stephen said of using the Anti-Riot Weapon Enfield (ARWEN) device when dealing with a barricaded individual. The ARWEN fires barrel-shaped projectiles that are meant to stop a person, but in normal operations are not supposed to be lethal.

Rauch, 43, died after being hit three times in the back of the head with ARWEN rounds following a standoff in which she had barricaded herself in a Pandora Avenue apartment while reportedly high on methamphetamine. The incident happened on Christmas Day of 2019.

An investigation was made into the incident by the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner that cleared the officer who fired the weapon of wrongdoing. This hearing to review that decision is being held at the request of Rauch’s family.

Stephen had initially brought the ARWEN device to the scene, and was questioned at length about this decision, including what alternatives were available.

Chris Considine, counsel for the complaint commissioner, wanted to know why bean bags, flash-bang grenades, tear gas or tasers were not considered instead of the ARWEN. Adjudicator Wally Oppal, a former B.C. attorney general and supreme court justice, wanted to know why police didn’t work up to the ARWEN.

First addressing the bean-bag shotgun, Stephen said he has seen people “walk right through” being shot with one.

“It’s not a very effective tool,” he said. “I’ve seen people get hit with multiple bean bag rounds and have zero compliance.”

As for flash-bang grenades, he said those would not be used in a room with low visibility due to the potential to injure a person if deployed too close. When he said this there were audible murmurs from the seats where Rauch’s family sat questioning why an ARWEN was OK to use in such a situation.

Tear gas could have been used, but Stephen said it would have taken too long to set up and properly assess the scene before deploying the gas, and because the fire alarm was going off and smoke was coming out of the apartment “there was no time for that discussion.”

Another option would have been a taser, but Stephen said this is actually a step up from the ARWEN in terms of response.

Stephen was the officer who initially had the ARWEN device in his hands, but passed it on to officer Ron Kirkwood, who took the shots. Despite it being another officer who initially brought in the ARWEN, Stephen said it is up to the officer with the weapon to decide if it should be used.

“It would be the individual operator who makes that decision to deploy,” Stephen said.

When Kirkwood’s counsel, Kevin Woodall, was given a chance to question Stephen, he established that under the framework for deciding on response options— which range from simple police presence all the way to lethal force — if officers are threatened by knife and their lives are at risk, lethal force can be used.

Woodall also established that when officers saw smoke “billowing” from the window of the apartment, the response options narrowed as it became more urgent for them to gain access to the apartment.

Stephen said that when officers were entering the apartment they were unsure of where Rauch was, and were trying to assess the danger to them. He said it had sounded like she was above them in a loft area of the apartment. He also said at one point it sounded as if she was stabbing the walls.

This added to a fear of being attacked, as Stephen had already been told that Rauch had been arrested the day prior, and “it took multiple officers to control her.”

Several more officers involved are expect to testify throughout the week, as well as two firefighters who attended the scene. The hearing is scheduled to run until May 10.

READ MORE: Day One: Hearing begins to review Victoria police officer’s actions in woman’s death

READ MORE: Day Two: Lead-up to woman’s death included drug use, tense standoff with Victoria police

About the Author: Mark Page

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