The way RCMP investigated a deadly shooting by a B.C. Mountie more than four years ago undermined public confidence in the national police force, says a report by the RCMP public complaints commissioner.

At the same time, Commissioner Paul Kennedy did find that the shooting of a burglary suspect in northern B.C. was done in self-defence.

Kevin St. Arnaud was shot three times after running from a drug store that had been broken into in Vanderhoof, B.C., in December 2004.

RCMP Const. Ryan Sheremetta said he shot St. Arnaud after the 29-year-old suspect turned and advanced on him during a chase across a snow-covered field.

In the report released Wednesday, Kennedy said Sheremetta reasonably perceived St. Arnaud posed a threat of severe harm or death to the officer.

But it was the commissioner's other findings that had RCMP brass calling a news conference just an hour after the report was released, some of them highly critical of the way Mounties investigated one of their own.

"Failing to abide by best practices will inevitably fuel the perception that in such investigations the police are partial or that they treated subject members more favourably that members of the public," he said in the report.

Acknowledging errors

Kennedy's report said it is imperative that RCMP foster public confidence by showing that it embraces the best investigation practices -- especially in cases such as these where an officer uses deadly force.

"A frank acknowledgment of deficiencies or errors, where they exist, would serve not only to establish that the RCMP is accountable for its actions, but that it is a principled organization worthy of public trust," Kennedy wrote.

Without that, the ability of police to do their work is "seriously eroded."

Public scrutiny

RCMP Chief Supt. Dick Bent told reporters that the force is aware that "some of the public" are concerned about the fact that RCMP can investigate its own officers under such circumstances.

"There were some errors made in the investigating process, we've learned from those and taken a lot of corrective action already," he said.

Those errors include the fact that neither Sheremetta nor Const. Colleen Erickson, who also responded to the break-in at the pharmacy, provided first aid to St. Arnaud after he was shot.

Investigators attempted to set up a tent over St. Arnaud's body but it was too windy, and the officers' footprints "obliterated" evidence footprints in the snow, said the report.

They did not remove Erickson -- the key witness -- from the scene immediately, failed to take blood samples from the snow, inadequately prepared for interviews, made assumptions not supported by evidence and didn't properly apply the RCMP major case management model.

The commissioner made several recommendations, including that RCMP train a larger pool of full-time use-of-force experts to deal with major investigations in a timely manner.

Bent handed the media a six-page document outlining how the force was dealing with each finding or recommendation.

"It's not a case of being loose and free on (the investigation). It's a situation where, looking in hindsight, we could have done things better," said Bent.

"There was no malice in some of the shortcomings that were identified."

He offered his condolences again to the St. Arnaud family before responding to the report.

"In our view, none of the recommendations made by the (commissioner) would have prevented the tragic events that occurred back on Dec. 19, 2004," said Bent.


Last month, the B.C. Crown announced that Sheremetta would not face perjury charges as a result of questionable testimony he gave a coroner's inquest into St. Arnaud's death. Sheremetta had graduated from RCMP cadet training less than a year before the shooting.

Sheremetta continued to work as an RCMP officer in the aftermath of the shooting but was suspended with pay following the coroner's inquest, over the allegations that he may have perjured himself in his testimony. The alleged perjury was not related to the shooting itself, but to his previous experience dealing with weapons seizures.

RCMP said that since the Crown decision last month, Sheremetta has returned to duty at a detachment in the B.C. Interior.