ASIRT’s investigation was comprehensive and thorough and conducted using current investigative protocols. ASIRT interviewed all relevant civilian and police witnesses, including both officers present at the time of the incident. ASIRT obtained dispatch records, including radio communications, and obtained an expert report regarding the weapon the man had in his possession. The scene was carefully scrutinized and examined and documented through extensive photographs. 

While in uniform and on patrol in separate marked police vehicles on Oct. 19, 2017, officers noted a blue Ford Explorer parked facing northbound in the southbound lane of Haskayne Avenue, a main thoroughfare in Gleichen. The vehicle was parked near a residence that was known to be associated with the local drug trade. At approximately 3:40 a.m., the vehicle was observed to still be parked in the same location, with its lights off, and it appeared to be occupied by a man in the driver’s seat. The driver’s head was cocked back “awkwardly,” his mouth was wide open and he did not appear to be conscious or moving. A spotlight from one of the police vehicles was directed towards the front of the Explorer.

The two uniformed officers exited their marked police vehicles and approached the Explorer on foot, with one officer on the driver’s side and the other officer on the passenger’s side. Both officers knocked on the vehicle’s windows. The man did not wake up, but did appear to be breathing. At this point, the officer standing at the driver’s side window observed what appeared to be a firearm placed between the man’s legs, and informed the other officer. The second officer returned to his vehicle to retrieve a carbine, and again approached the vehicle on the passenger side. 

The officers initially planned for the officer on the driver’s side to open the door and grab the firearm while the other officer provided cover, but the driver’s door was locked. The officer on the driver’s side then tried to break the driver’s side window with his flashlight, while armed with his service pistol in his other hand. The flashlight failed to break the window but did rouse the man inside. The officers shouted verbal commands identifying themselves as police and informing the occupant of the vehicle that he was under arrest. The man looked directly at the officer on the driver’s side of the vehicle and swore at the officer. As the man’s hands went towards the firearm, both officers again shouted commands to show his hands. The man failed to respond and continued to reach for the firearm, prompting the officer on the driver’s side of the vehicle to fire his service pistol, wounding the man, while the officer repositioned himself towards the front of the Explorer.

Police recovered the man’s firearm, which appeared to be some form of homemade shotgun, between the driver’s door and driver’s seat of the vehicle. The man was removed from the Explorer to be examined and treated by Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel on scene, who determined that the man was deceased.

Gleichen RCMP members acted reasonably in fatal shooting

Homemade firearm recovered from the scene of the fatal officer-involved shooting in Gleichen.

Following the officer-involved shooting, the man was identified to be a 26-year-old resident of Morley, Alberta. The man had a prior criminal history and was prohibited from the possession of firearms, ammunition and explosives as a result of a prior criminal conviction. The identity of the man and his prior criminal history, however, were unknown to the officers at the time of the incident. 

An autopsy conducted by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), determined the man’s cause of death to be multiple gunshot wounds. There was no evidence of close-range gunfire. Two shotgun shells, two glass drug pipes, several small bags consistent with drug packaging and a quantity of unknown white pills were found in the man’s pockets. A toxicology report revealed the presence of alcohol, methamphetamine, amphetamine, cocaine and cannabis in the man’s system. 

Several civilian witnesses who had been with the man earlier that evening, prior to the incident, provided statements to ASIRT investigators. Three witnesses in particular described troubling conversations with the man. One witness detailed the man’s consumption of both alcohol and drugs, confirming that the man had been left passed out in the driver’s seat of the Explorer. This witness indicated that the man had been talking about his own death and funeral as if he knew something was going to happen.

A second witness said that the man said that police were watching him and waiting to stop him. He said he would not stop for police and that they should fasten their seatbelts. The witness indicated that the man retrieved a “homemade” firearm, about two feet in length, and put it on the dashboard, and displayed several rounds of ammunition, tossing them in his hand. The man had previously shown this witness the firearm a few weeks earlier. The witness also confirmed that the man appeared to be making comments about what he believed to be his own impending death. The man had previously stated that he would not go back to jail and that, upon contact, he would have a shootout with police.

A third person who was with the man earlier that evening described the man’s recent state of mind as “freaked out” and “paranoid all the time.” On the night of the incident, the man indicated that if he came into contact with police, it was his intention to engage in a “shootout” with them. This witness also confirmed the man had the homemade firearm with him in the Explorer.  

The man’s firearm was a homemade single-shot 12-gauge shotgun, consisting of a metal pipe and wooden stock, with a firing pin. It appeared to have all the necessary components to function as a firearm. At the time of testing, however, it was determined that although the firing pin would strike the primer, it was too short and, as such, a round was not discharged when the firing pin struck. To be clear, it was inoperable. Given the homemade nature of the firearm, it is unknown if this was the result of wear or whether the firearm had ever been operational. It would have appeared to be a firearm and it would have been impossible for police to know whether it was functioning.

Under the Criminal Code, police officers are granted certain powers and authorities to facilitate the performance of what can be a challenging job. A police officer is authorized to use as much force as is reasonably necessary in administration or enforcement of the law. This can, in limited circumstances, include force that is intended or likely to cause grievous bodily harm or death. Lethal force is only authorized in circumstances where an officer believes, on reasonable grounds, that it is necessary for the self-preservation of the person or the preservation of anyone under that person’s protection from death or grievous bodily harm. Also, any person, including a police officer, is entitled to the use of reasonable force in defence of themselves or another person. 

In this case, having observed the firearm within the vehicle, the officers were lawfully entitled to investigate and seize the weapon and take the man into custody and, in doing so, to use as much force as was reasonably necessary. The subsequent actions of the man, in persistently reaching for what reasonably appeared to be a firearm -- despite repeated verbal commands by the officers --  created a situation that reasonably gave rise to a fear of death or grievous bodily harm on the part of the officers. Accordingly, following a full investigation and assessment of the evidence, there are no reasonable grounds, or even reasonable suspicion, to believe that the officers committed any Criminal Code offence(s).

ASIRT’s mandate is to effectively, independently and objectively investigate incidents involving Alberta’s police that have resulted in serious injury or death to any person.

ASIRT

This release is distributed by the Government of Alberta on behalf of the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team.


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