The provincial police watchdog has exonerated a Campbell River RCMP officer who shot and killed a man wielding a pellet pistol in April 2022.
According to a report from the Independent Investigations Office (IIO), Campbell River police responded to a 911 call from a sporting goods store on the morning of April 2. A man was said to have stolen knives and a realistic-looking pellet gun, and made a death threat to a store employee.
Police located a suspect a short time later. According to the IIO report, the man pointed the pellet pistol at an officer from close range. The officer fired and the man sustained a fatal gunshot wound.
The report says the man “ran at (the officer), pointing the pellet pistol directly at him. (The officer) fired his service pistol as (the man) passed him and turned away, running along the side of the motel building. The bullet from (the officer)’s firearm lodged in (the man)’s backpack. A few seconds later, (the man) turned, again pointing his pistol at (the officer), and (the officer) discharged a second round at him.”
The man continued running along a fence and hedge on the property. A second officer drove at him in her police vehicle, but did not make contact with the man.
“She later told IIO investigators that as she exited the vehicle she heard the sound of a gunshot and could smell gunpowder,” the report says.
A third officer also drove his vehicle towards the man, who was still running away. That time, there was a glancing contact between the man and the vehicle. The second officer said she saw the man on the ground with what appeared to be a semi-automatic pistol in his hand pointed at the other approaching officers. The officer who shot at the man first yelled at him to drop the gun, and then the second officer said she “heard a gunshot.”
The three officers disarmed the man and checked him for wounds, but found none. Paramedics also checked the man for bullet wounds, but did not find any. After the paramedics cleared the man to be taken into custody, he was placed in the back of a police vehicle.
Shortly after, the second officer went to formally arrest the man, but found him unresponsive. He was removed from the vehicle and officers began CPR and called for paramedics to return. The man was taken to hospital, but was declared deceased.
“It was discovered that he had been wounded by a bullet that had passed through his leather belt and the waistband of his pants, which had closed and concealed the wound and limited bleeding from it,” the report says. “No blood was found in the police vehicle in which (the man) had been seated.”
Through their investigation, the IIO determined that the officer who shot the man “was acting in lawful execution of his duty, attempting to locate a suspect in an alleged robbery involving a death threat,” the report says. “He had been told that the suspect had taken weapons including a realistic-looking pellet pistol. He was also given information suggesting that the pistol might still be enclosed in its packaging.
“When (the man) ran at him pointing what would have appeared exactly like a full-power firearm, (the officer) was entitled to respond as if to a lethal threat,” it says.
The report further says that “in fact, he exercised considerable restraint,” noting that the officer pursued on foot after the first shot, and only fired again when the man continued pointing his gun at police.
According to the IIO, officers made “all reasonable efforts” to check the man for bullet wounds, and that since the paramedics could also not find any, “officers cannot be faulted for not locating that wound.”
The decision said that there are no reasonable grounds to believe an officer committed an offence, and the IIO would not be referring the matter to Crown counsel.