ASIRT’s investigation was comprehensive and thorough. All relevant police and civilian witnesses were interviewed. All CPS video, both from the HAWCS police helicopter and the involved CPS vehicle, was secured and analyzed, along with all relevant dispatch data and audio recordings. A significant amount of video from residences and businesses was also secured and analyzed. The scene was examined. Finally, the CPS policies relevant to the discharge of an ARWEN, the less lethal device used here, were reviewed. The subject officer, as is his constitutional and statutory right, declined to provide ASIRT investigators with a statement.
Circumstances Surrounding the Incident
- The 25-year-old man
The young man involved in this case was 25 years old at the time of his death. He had a loving family, whom he lived with, and no prior criminal record. He was to have started a new job on the date of the incident. There had been prior contact with police in 2017 involving threats of violence towards family members, an event that was believed to have stemmed from an undiagnosed mental health disorder. During the course of the investigation, family members related that the man had been diagnosed with a mental disorder which was managed with medication, but that he had not taken his medication for the preceding two months because he felt that it interfered with his fitness routine.
On Aug. 31, 2018, at approximately 1 a.m., about three hours prior to the shooting, the man posted a video to his Instagram account. The video, which appeared to have been created sometime before 12:21 a.m. that morning, showed the man calmly stating “Beat me to death or run me over…. or whatever you can, kill me…. Thank you.” The Instagram account also had a title that said “Death day (snapchat)” and his name.
- Events preceding the shooting
The officer-involved shooting was the last in a series of interactions between the man and CPS members over approximately six hours.
At 10:03 p.m. on Aug. 30, 2018, a 911 call was received from a gym in Calgary. The man had been involved in an altercation inside the gym and had been kicked out. Upon leaving, he made statements that raised concerns for his mental health, to the effect that “This place is hell” or “Earth is hell” and that “where I am going is better.”
The man then reportedly drove his vehicle around the gym parking lot for approximately one hour. When CPS members arrived at the scene, the man was still driving around the parking lot. They attempted to stop the vehicle, but he failed to stop. At about 11:57 p.m., the man drove out of the gym parking lot and proceeded eastbound at a high rate of speed on Country Hills Boulevard, in the direction of the family residence. Police requested that the gym close early in order to de-escalate the situation, which it did.
During this time, CPS members recognized the man’s history of possible mental health concerns and spoke with his family, who also expressed concerns for his mental health.
In an effort to avoid escalating the situation, the CPS HAWCS police helicopter monitored the man’s driving while CPS vehicles followed him at a distance so as not to directly engage. The man drove at a high rate of speed, not stopping at red lights, at points on the wrong side of the road. At about 12:03 a.m., the man arrived at the vicinity of his family residence. He appeared to notice a police vehicle parked near the residence, and immediately drove away at a high rate of speed.
The man continued to drive dangerously, frequently on the wrong side of the road, at one point driving down a bike path. He also appeared to try to ram a marked police vehicle. HAWCS continued to monitor the man’s vehicle; meanwhile, so as not to escalate the situation, marked police vehicles did not interact with him. The man’s family was removed from their residence for their safety.
At approximately 12:21 a.m., the man parked at his family residence and entered the residence. Over the next two hours, police and members of the man’s family spoke to him on the phone repeatedly. The man sounded agitated and refused to exit the residence with empty hands. Police had his vehicle towed with the aim of preventing the man from leaving the residence in that vehicle and potentially harming himself or others as a result of his dangerous driving. After several hours involving sporadic contact with the man, it became apparent that he would not voluntarily be leaving the residence. At several points, he was asked to come out, but said he would not. Then he said he would come out but would bring a pocket knife in his pocket and not in his hand. He was told to come out with nothing in his hands or his pockets. The man stated that he was in hell, the devil was playing his games and this was all political. Officers attempted to have family members talk with the man, only for him to become even more agitated to learn that they were assisting police in their attempts to resolve the situation. During this period of time, the man sent the song You Can’t Kill Me by Eminem to a family member. The man said words to the effect that he was not going to come outside, and that the police would have to come in and get him. He appeared to be most agitated and angry with the involvement of police. During one phone call with an officer, the man commented that if he left the residence and police tried to arrest him, he would kill the officers. He also stated that if they came into the residence to arrest him, he would stab as many of them as he could. Aside from these comments, at no time had the man threatened self-harm or harm to a family member. Eventually, the man stopped answering his phone altogether.
The officers had limited options at that point. While the family offered to provide them with a key to the premises, there was arguably a legal requirement, absent exigent circumstances, for them to obtain judicial authorization to enter the home and arrest the man. Containing a residence for an additional extended period of time, however, to obtain a warrant can, and has in the past, had the unintended effect of escalating the situation, resulting in suicides while contained in the residence, or injury or death to the person or an officer(s) when entry is ultimately attempted. Police attempted to explain this to the family. Equally important, even if police relied on consent or exigent circumstances to force entry into the home, a physical confrontation between the armed man and the officers would be the likely result. In such a situation, the likelihood of a critical armed confrontation was exponentially heightened, as was the possibility of the police needing to use lethal force. As the presence of police seemed to be a particular source of agitation for the man, and since he appeared to want a confrontation, one option was for the officers to stand down and leave the immediate area to de-escalate the situation and give the man time to calm down. They knew the man’s identity. He could be arrested for the driving-related offences on another day, and they had diminished the risk to public safety by removing his vehicle. The family was advised to find another place to stay for the night and not to return to the home. The family was not happy with the decision.
At 3:28 a.m., a neighbour called 911 to advise that the man was playing loud music and that the neighbours, aware of the earlier issues, feared for their safety. While officers were sent back to the neighbourhood, a CPS officer attempted to contact the man by phone to ask that he turn his music down. The man did not answer his phone.
Two officers in a marked police SUV were sent to respond to the call. They had been involved in the earlier events but left the area following the decision to terminate engagement with the man. When they returned to the area, the subject officer was driving the police vehicle accompanied by another officer in the passenger seat.
At 3:46 a.m., while patrolling the area, the officers spotted the man walking southbound on the west side of Redstone Street. As they watched the man, they noted that he was carrying a knife. While they did not see any other pedestrians in the area, this area was a major corridor for buses and the man was walking in the direction of a gas station. Given the armed man’s earlier behaviour, the officers feared that he might harm anyone he encountered, and the officer in the passenger seat believed that he needed to be apprehended.
The officers drove near the man in the marked police vehicle. The officer in the passenger seat was armed with what is referred to as a less lethal option, an ARWEN launcher that fires less lethal baton rounds. While seated inside the police vehicle, the officer challenged the man and directed him to drop the knife while pointing the ARWEN launcher out the open window of the passenger side of the police vehicle. At first, the man kept walking, but then turned around and began to taunt the officers. He yelled something to the effect of “Come get me, I have nothing in my hands.” He turned around and continued to walk southbound. At this time, this officer could no longer see the man’s hand or the knife. The man was carrying some sort of bag on his left side.
This officer asked for and received permission to deploy his ARWEN launcher, which has an estimated effective range of 20 metres. At the time he fired, he estimated that the man was approximately 10 metres away. While he aimed the shot at the man’s upper left thigh, it had no observable effect. The officer fired again. This round appeared to have some impact, as the man lifted his leg, however, it did not stop the man or cause him to drop the knife.
The man began to sprint in a southwest direction across a dirt field, followed by the officers in the police vehicle. The officers briefly lost the man in the darkness. As they approached a row of duplexes, a security light turned on and the officer in the passenger seat caught a glimpse of the man running between the last two duplexes to the west. There was a concern that the man might try to gain entry into the residences.
As the subject officer drove the police SUV west down an alley to get back onto Redstone Street, the man was observed walking east, now with a knife in each hand. The officers initially followed at a distance and continued to issue commands from the vehicle to drop the knives. At approximately 3:48 a.m., as the man continued onto Redstone Street, the officer armed with the ARWEN launcher fired a round at the man, which had no observable impact.
The ensuing confrontation happened unimaginably fast. While the officer was reloading the ARWEN launcher in the passenger seat of the police vehicle, the man suddenly turned and ran the 15 to 20 feet to the police vehicle. With his upper body now inside the police vehicle through the window, he began to make slashing motions with the two knives. Audio recordings captured the sounds of a struggle. As the officer pushed back and away in his seat to avoid being cut by the knives and attempted to release his service pistol from his holster, the subject officer drew his service weapon and fired three shots at the man from close range. The man was struck and fell out of the window and to the ground. The time from the last deployment of the ARWEN and the shots being fired was approximately four seconds.
The officers exited their vehicle and one immediately began administering emergency aid while EMS and additional CPS officers responded to the scene. Upon their arrival, EMS personnel took over emergency treatment. The man was transported to the hospital, where he was declared deceased.
Both knives – a paring knife and a steak knife – were recovered from the ground near the man. In addition to these two knives, a third steak knife was found in the man’s pants.
The officer in the passenger seat exited the police vehicle, described himself as being in shock and that he had to check himself for injuries because he could not believe he had not been stabbed. He had two skinned knuckles and an abrasion on his elbow. He was not sure what caused these injuries, but thought they may have come from contact with the ARWEN during the struggle. He said that when the man pushed into the vehicle from the open passenger side window, swinging the knives, he thought he would die.
An autopsy demonstrated that of the three shots fired, one severed the man’s aorta before lodging in his spine and had caused the man’s death. It was determined that one of the other shots entered the left side of the man’s face and exited through the lower left side of the back of his neck. The remaining shot grazed the man’s neck. There was evidence of stippling on the left side of the man’s face, which could be consistent with the shot having been fired at close range. Both the trajectory of the shots and the stippling were consistent with the struggle that occurred with the man partially inside the police vehicle. Toxicology results revealed no controlled substances or alcohol in the man’s body.
ASIRT’s investigation was focused on the questions of whether the subject officer’s conduct caused or contributed to the death of the man, and if so, whether that conduct was lawful. As with all officer-involved shootings, it is clear that the officer’s actions caused the man’s death. The question remained whether the officer was acting in the lawful execution of his authority and whether the force used was lawful. While not the direct focus of our investigation, the earlier events provided some context to the circumstances leading to the officer-involved shooting.
Based on the evidence, the man had exhibited mental health issues prior to Aug. 31, 2018. Additionally, the evidence has established that CPS officers were aware that there might have been mental health issues impacting the man’s behaviour that evening. From the outset, when responding to the various events, officers attempted to exercise restraint in an attempt to avoid escalating the situation. Officers did not engage in a criminal flight response despite the man’s driving. The man’s driving was monitored, as opposed to any overt pursuit. They proactively removed the man’s family members for their safety. When he returned to and entered the home, officers attempted to contact the man and encourage a peaceful surrender, which failed. To reduce the public risk of the man returning to his vehicle and further engaging in dangerous driving, they removed the vehicle from the scene. When it became apparent that the man was becoming increasingly agitated during their communications with him and appeared to want a confrontation with police, they made the decision to de-escalate the situation by retreating. This decision was made after consideration of all other reasonable alternatives, such as forcing entry into the home in circumstances where the situation appeared to be deteriorating or escalating. Another alternative would have been to continue their negotiations with the man, even though this very contact appeared to be only escalating the situation, potentially causing the man to become so agitated that he would make good on his threat to leave the residence armed. Both of those options, in the circumstances of this case, increased the risk of a critical confrontation between the man and police that would put everyone involved at increased risk of harm or death. Faced with a number of not particularly good options, the officers chose to stand down in the hope that the situation might settle down and they might avoid a critical incident. When police left the residence, the man’s animus appeared to be restricted to police. Nothing said by the man suggested that he intended to leave the residence. Removal of the vehicle removed an option for transport, perhaps discouraging the man from going out while also protecting the public from another episode of reckless driving. Inside the residence, the man presented little risk to others, as he was alone.
Although police were not aware of it, an Instagram video posted by the man during the standoff appeared to express some desire to have someone kill him. His actions were consistent with that motive.
When the subject officer and his partner responded to the neighbourhood, the situation had changed. Having left his residence to walk freely in the neighbourhood, armed overtly with one knife, and by the time of the lethal encounter, two knives, retreat was no longer an option for the officers, as the man presented a potential risk to himself and, equally as important, anyone he might happen to encounter. It would have been an abrogation of duty if the officers had not confronted the man at this time. When they did confront him, they remained in their vehicle and exercised restraint with the use of the less lethal ARWEN launcher to try and stop and disarm him. While the use of the ARWEN was an escalation, it presented less risk to the man and the officers.
Under Section 25 of the Criminal Code, police officers are permitted to use as much force as is necessary in the execution of their duties. Where this force is intended or is likely to cause death or grievous bodily harm, the officer must believe on reasonable grounds that the force is necessary for the self-preservation of the officer or preservation of anyone under that officer’s protection. A police officer also has the same protections for defence of person under Section 34 of the Criminal Code as any other person.
In this case, the situation changed to life and death in an instant. Instead of continuing to flee, the man turned and directly attacked the officers. While the man was clearly in the midst of a mental health crisis, we will never know what was in his mind in that moment. When the man leaned into the vehicle armed with two knives, the risk of death or grievous bodily harm was now immediate. In those circumstances, the subject officer’s use of lethal force was protected not only by the application of Section 25 of the Criminal Code, but Section 34 in defence of another person.
A police officer’s use of force, in law, is not to be assessed on a standard of perfection nor with the benefit of hindsight and the opportunity to consider alternatives with the luxury of time, recognizing the exigencies of the circumstances and the decisions and reactions that must occur in split seconds. The circumstances of this case, in particular, bring to mind a common phrase courts use when describing how self-defence and/or a police officer’s use of force should be judged:
In deciding whether the force used … was more than necessary… you must remember that one cannot be expected to weigh to a nicety, the exact measure of necessity, the defensive action; … detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife.
It is easy, with the benefit of hindsight, to speculate about how things could have been done differently. That having been said, there were no real alternatives in that moment that would have avoided, with any certainty, serious injury or death to the man or the officer. In any event, that is not the standard against which an officer’s conduct is measured.
The question is, applying principles of proportionality, necessity, and reasonableness, whether the force used falls into a range of possible reasonable responses. In the circumstances of this case, the officer was placed in an immediate position where he had to resort to lethal force towards one person to save the life of another. He did so not in response to some theoretical risk, but in the face of an actual attack that resulted in the man being in a position to stab the other officer.
The man was clearly going through some form of mental health crisis. That makes the circumstances even more tragic than they might otherwise be, because a man who needed help and, but for this mental health crisis, would not normally have behaved in this fashion, was killed. That must be balanced against the fact that a person in the midst of a mental health crisis can be dangerous and cause significant harm or death to another person. Indeed, in some situations, these individuals, when they are armed, can be even more dangerous because they may not be rational and/or responsive to the situation they are facing.
Throughout their dealings with the man, the subject officer and his partner both attempted to manage the risk safely using less lethal measures. Their ability to do so, however, shifted in response to the man’s sudden and potentially lethal attack. In that moment, the officers lost the luxury of time and distance and the subject officer responded with the use of lethal force in response to the man’s lethal attack. Looking at the whole of the evidence, had the officer not done so, the strong, if not overwhelming, inference would be that the officer in the passenger seat would have been stabbed. In these circumstances, the use of lethal force is proportionate, necessary and reasonable.
These findings do not negate the fact that this entire event was a tragedy. Even though the officer’s response was proportionate, reasonable and absolutely necessary, one can still recognize and grieve the loss of a life in these circumstances. These two things are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, there can be no doubt that this was a horrific event for all involved. The overwhelming majority of those who become police officers do so wanting to help people and their community and keep them safe, hoping to never be put in a situation where they take a life. It can be a terrible burden to bear, living with the knowledge that they took a life, regardless of how necessary it might have been in that moment. For the family, it is often impossible to understand, knowing that their loved one was killed in a situation where he had been in crisis, was in a situation where he was not himself or acting rationally, and who just needed help. It is a heartbreaking situation for all involved.
Based on the whole of the evidence, notwithstanding the terrible outcome, there are no reasonable grounds, nor reasonable suspicion, to believe that the involved officer committed any offence(s). That officer faced not just the proverbial but also the very real “upraised knife” and was forced to respond with force likely to cause grievous bodily harm or death to prevent the death of another. The evidence would firmly establish that, throughout their dealings with the man, the officers’ desire was to resolve this situation with no loss of life. While the situation escalated, it was the man’s conduct that escalated it. When the officers found the man wandering the community armed with one, and then two, knives, public safety became paramount. Failing to engage with the man and permitting him to continue would have been inexcusable, especially had he encountered and wounded or killed a civilian in this residential area. He needed to be stopped. Less than lethal means, including the use of the ARWEN launcher and commands to drop the weapons, failed to stop him or cause him to abandon his weapons. Even then, the evidence supports the finding that the officers continued with their plan to resolve the situation without use of lethal force, with the passenger reloading the ARWEN launcher and the subject officer’s service pistol remaining in his holster. It was only when the man attacked, placing the officer in the passenger seat immediately in critical danger, that the subject officer drew his service pistol and resorted to lethal force. In the circumstances, it was not only permissible but necessary to resort to lethal force to save the life of another, no matter how tragic the outcome.
This release is distributed by the Government of Alberta on behalf of the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team.