The case of man who died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at Nanaimo’s Departure Bay ferry terminal at the same time he was shot by police was unprecedented for the man charged with investigating the incident.
Ronald MacDonald, Independent Investigations Office of B.C. chief civilian director, said this is the first time he can recall a suspect being shot as he was in the act of taking his own life.
“That is a first,” he said. “It’s certainly not uncommon for people to be interested in dying when they have a confrontation with the police. I’ve been involved with many cases where it’s quite clear in the end, unfortunately, that the individual took certain actions knowing that would likely lead to their death by police, but this one, where the two shots, as far as we can determine … were basically simultaneous, that’s the first time I’ve ever seen that.”
After interviewing statements taken from 31 civilian witnesses and 11 police officers, the provincial police watchdog found that RCMP officers did not commit any offence when the unidentified man was shot and killed.
Police had been advised that a car, reported stolen in a “violent car-jacking” in Penticton, had been located on a B.C. Ferries vessel. Police positioned their vehicles and the suspect car was separated from other ferry traffic and “forced to stop.”
“The evidence is clear that [the suspect], while surrounded by police, raised his gun and shot himself in the head. That was his only intention,” notes the IIO report. “However, as he did this, the gun would have been pointed at several police officers.”
“Officer 3 said as AP raised the pistol it pointed toward the windshield and Officer 2 on the other side of that windshield. Officer 5 also reported being in the line of fire as the pistol was raised from his position in the passenger seat of the truck, as did Officer 7 as he had moved from the canopy truck to the front of the van.
Officer 7 said, ‘If I’d had my gun out, I would have shot him…[and]…until he put it to the side of his head, I didn’t know he was going to [shoot] himself.’”
People interviewed included three individuals not involved with the incident, but who knew the suspect personally and said to investigators the suspect said in conversation via telephone that he had “wasted somebody” and stolen a car. He also allegedly said more than once, “I’m not going to jail. The police are going to have to shoot me.”
The person the suspect thought he had fatally shot did not die as a result of the shooting.
MacDonald said IIO B.C. has been concluding investigations more quickly over the past year. In this case there was little delay in getting toxicology and autopsy reports, although the investigation was “quite complicated” because of the number of witnesses and amount of video that had to be tracked down and reviewed.
“I wouldn’t consider any officer-involved shooting as simple, there are a lot of angles that we need to consider, but in the end as can be seen from the facts, the conclusion was fairly obvious once we had all of those facts pulled together,” MacDonald said.
“An important piece of that was the fact that the individual shot themselves. That tells us two things, one that he was part of the cause of his own death, but also it confirms all of the evidence from the officers, that they saw a gun being raised because we knew that a gun had to have been raised to his head, so in that sense the evidence was fairly conclusive regarding the justification for the police actions.”
The report released Monday notes that the suspect sustained a very serious head injury, and three gunshot wounds to his abdomen, one to his collarbone and one to his left bicep. Paramedics reported the victim had a pulse when checked, but was pronounced dead about 20-30 minutes after being transferred to Nanaimo Regional General Hospital.
The suspect has never been identified by the police, B.C. Coroners Service or IIO.
“Quite simply, the law doesn’t let us and the difference is that the coroners office has changed their policy to be consistent with that, more recently,” MacDonald said. “I can also say that, in speaking with the family in this matter, that they were very grateful for the fact the name was not used.”