ASIRT’s investigation was comprehensive, thorough and conducted using current investigative protocols. ASIRT interviewed all relevant police and civilian witnesses, including all subject officers who provided voluntary statements. Additionally, the investigation was aided considerably by the availability of significant, high-quality Watchguard video from a number of the RCMP vehicles.
On March 25, 2018, a 22-year-old woman, Nadia El-Dib, was found deceased behind a home in Calgary. An autopsy confirmed that she had been the victim of a particularly violent attack involving the use of an edged weapon and a firearm. The Calgary Police Service (CPS) investigators quickly identified a suspect: a 21-year-old man who had briefly dated the young woman and was associated with the residence behind which she was found. A warrant was issued for the man for the offence of first-degree murder. He remained at large and was believed to be armed and dangerous.
On the morning of March 29, CPS advised RCMP officers that evidence placed the fugitive in the Evansburg area. He was believed to be armed with a CSA VZ.58 semi-automatic rifle and driving a dark blue 2004 Ford Explorer sport utility vehicle. The man had made statements to the effect that he would not go down without a fight. This information was shared with RCMP officers in the detachments west of Edmonton along the Highway 16 corridor.
At 5:13 p.m., while heading home at the end of his shift, an RCMP officer in full uniform and operating a black Chevrolet Tahoe, discreetly marked with black (shadow) reflective strips in the standard RCMP design pattern, encountered the blue Ford Explorer and began following the vehicle, calling in that they were now northbound on Highway 22, about 15 kilometres south of Highway 16. Efforts to conduct a traffic stop of the vehicle were not successful and at 5:17 p.m., a police pursuit ensued.
The pursuit continued for approximately 70 minutes and covered approximately 140 kilometres, traveling north on Highway 22 onto Highway 16. The pursuit travelled east and west on Highway 16 as the man changed direction on the highway several times. As the pursuit continued, additional officers and police vehicles joined in. RCMP coordinated the response so that additional officers were positioned at intersections ahead of the pursuit to prevent civilians from accessing the highway and entering into the potentially dangerous ongoing event, and to prevent the man from escaping onto rural roads.
The man successfully evaded four separate attempts to deploy spike belts during the pursuit. A fifth spike belt, placed on Highway 16 eastbound at Range Road 112, succeeded in damaging the vehicle’s tires but the man was able to drive further until his vehicle became inoperable and stopped just east of Range Road 83, in the eastbound lanes of Highway 16.
As the vehicle slowed down, the man made a sharp 45-degree turn, coming to a stop angled across a portion of the outside eastbound lane of the highway, exposing the passenger side of the vehicle to the pursuing police vehicles. The placement of the vehicle provided a tactically advantageous position, providing cover and protection while the man fired upon police.
When the man’s vehicle stopped, the officer immediately behind noted traffic in the westbound lanes of Highway 16 and deliberately parked his police vehicle near the left shoulder in the eastbound lanes to limit the man’s ability to flee across the median into the westbound lanes and also to prevent him from flanking police. As the closest police vehicle, the officer stopped approximately 17.4 metres away from the Ford Explorer. The remaining pursuing RCMP vehicles stopped in a staggered pattern on the highway behind the Explorer.
Civilian witnesses travelling in the westbound lanes of Highway 16 reported seeing the man exit his vehicle with what was described as a rifle or “machine gun,” and immediately drop to one knee to take a firing stance, pointing at police ”like he knew what he was doing.”
The man immediately fired a shot at the closest RCMP vehicle, while the officer was exiting his marked police vehicle. The man again fired upon that officer, causing a head injury. It was immediately apparent to some of the nearby RCMP officers that this officer had been shot, and that he appeared to have some sort of head injury that was bleeding profusely, though his initial status was unknown.
As soon as the man began firing on the officers, officers took positions of cover and eleven of the officers returned fire, firing multiple rounds from assorted duty firearms. It was difficult for the officers to assess whether they had disabled the man, as he was behind the vehicle and hard to see. What followed was an exchange of gunfire between RCMP officers and the man that lasted for about two minutes. During the firefight, independent witnesses saw that the man appeared to be reloading his firearm as he sheltered behind his disabled vehicle. He fired additional rounds at the RCMP officers/vehicles from a position of cover behind the driver’s side of the Ford Explorer. One minute and twelve seconds after the start of the gunfire, one of the officers near the front waved his arm, directing officers to “cease fire.” One last shot was fired, when an officer perceived movement.
During the firefight, the injured officer crawled towards the back of his police vehicle, hampered by the head injury and blood obscuring his vision. He was pulled to safety through the concerted efforts of multiple officers to provide cover and physical assistance.
Given the man had considerable cover behind his vehicle, officers were challenged to aim through available access points including windows, over the top of the vehicle and underneath the undercarriage of the vehicle. A ceasefire was called once the officers believed that the man had been incapacitated. At 6:28 p.m., an officer travelling in the westbound lanes came upon the scene and confirmed that the man appeared to be down. Based on the available evidence, the man had fired 10 rounds, while a total of 202 police rounds are believed to have been fired between the eleven subject officers.
The injured officer suffered what would turn out, miraculously, to be only a grazing wound across the top of his head, leaving his skull intact, with shrapnel in his scalp and a concussion. He received stitches and remained in hospital for a number of days as a precautionary measure. A second officer on scene suffered several lacerations or abrasions on his arm and the back of the neck, believed to be from shrapnel from nearby bullet strikes.
The relatively minor nature of the officers’ injuries was a reflection of good fortune rather than a lack of intent on the part of the man. There can be no doubt that he had been firing on police with the intent to kill or seriously injure as many officers as possible.
The blue Ford Explorer suffered extensive damage: every window was shot out and the body of the vehicle had taken numerous bullet strikes. Three police vehicles also sustained damage from bullet strikes.
An autopsy determined that the man died of multiple gunshot wounds. One of the most serious gunshot wounds severed the cervical spinal cord, and lacerated both the left common carotid artery and left internal jugular. A toxicology report determined that the man had neither drugs nor alcohol in his system at the time of his death.
The man had no prior criminal record. The CSA VZ.58 semi-automatic rifle, which was the weapon believed to have been used in the murder of Ms. El-Dib, was recovered on scene and found to have an empty magazine but one remaining live round in the chamber. The gun and its ammunition had the capacity to penetrate police soft body armour. A receipt recovered from the man’s wallet demonstrated that his gun had been purchased on May 10, 2018, along with a membership to a Calgary gun club.
Under the Criminal Code, police officers are granted certain powers and authorities to facilitate the performance of what can be a challenging job. Under S. 25 of the Criminal Code, 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. Resort to 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 any one under that person’s protection from death or grievous bodily harm.
Further, under S. 34 of the Criminal Code, any person, including a police officer, is entitled to the use of reasonable force in defence of themselves or another person.
In order for a police officer’s use of force not only to be authorized but protected, the officer must be acting in the lawful execution of his or her duties, a principle often referred to as “lawful placement.” In this particular case, there is no question that all involved officers were acting in the lawful execution of their duties. All were involved in the attempted apprehension of the man, for whom a warrant had been issued in the public interest for the offence of first-degree murder. They were lawfully entitled to arrest him. Factoring in the homicide, the man’s stated intentions to evade apprehension and his behaviour during the attempted traffic stop, it is no understatement to suggest that he presented a high risk to public safety. It is also beyond dispute that the man understood that he was dealing with members of law enforcement.
It would be fair to describe this event as harrowing. It is a shocking example of the risks police can face at any time. While the man was extremely young and had no criminal record, factors that might suggest an easier or less risky apprehension, the calculated positioning of his vehicle permitted him to fire on police from a position of cover which prolonged the incident. His choice to open fire on officers was deliberate and immediate, and there can be no question that he presented a lethal risk. He was shooting to kill, not just to provoke a police response.
In the circumstances, viewing the incident as a whole, the eleven officers’ resort to the use of lethal force, made only upon the man’s firing first upon police, was reasonable and justified. The risk presented by these actions was both serious and immediate. These actions, both objectively and subjectively, risked grievous bodily harm or death to the officers who were present, and accordingly, the decision by subject officers to fire their service weapons was both lawful and justified. When considering the number of shots fired by police, one must be mindful of the chaos created by both police and the man firing weapons at the same time, the difficulty police had in determining whether the man had been injured or incapacitated, and the precious seconds it took for officers to recognize that the threat presented by the man had been addressed.
Having reviewed the investigation in its entirety, there are no reasonable grounds, nor reasonable suspicion, to believe any of the involved officers committed any offences. As such, the officers will not be charged with any offences arising out of this incident.
It is a tragedy when a life is lost. While the loss of life is never the desired outcome, the man placed the officers in a situation where lethal force was necessary. Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of a situation that would be a better example of the necessity for the use of lethal force. The man was an active shooter, using lethal force and was deliberately trying to kill others. He needed to be stopped before he succeeded. A dangerous person who presented considerable risk to everyone, civilians and officers alike, was contained and stopped before he could do more harm. This is an example of officers placing themselves in harm’s way to protect others and, indeed, nearly paying the highest price.
At the end of the day, no members of the public were caught up in this incident or harmed. The police officers who voluntarily put themselves in harm’s way that day were able to return to their families. Responsibility for the death of the affected person falls solely on him, even though officers were the mechanism he used to achieve that result.
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, as well as serious or sensitive allegations of police misconduct.
This release is distributed by the Government of Alberta on behalf of the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team.