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No charges for police after fatal shooting on Vancouver's Granville Bridge

Vancouver's Granville Street Bridge is blocked off after a police officer fatally shot a man during rush hour Feb. 9, 2023. Vancouver's Granville Street Bridge is blocked off after a police officer fatally shot a man during rush hour Feb. 9, 2023.

A police officer who fatally shot a man on Vancouver's Granville Street Bridge earlier this year made a "justifiable" decision to use lethal force, a provincial watchdog has concluded.

The tense incident played out during the evening rush hour on Feb. 9, in view of multiple witnesses, with part of the interaction captured on video from a bus stopped midway across the bridge.

After reviewing the evidence, the Independent Investigations Office determined the man killed by police had been running at officers while carrying a double-edged knife and a screwdriver.

In a summary of the IIO's findings published Monday, chief civilian director Ronald J. MacDonald said the watchdog would not refer the case to prosecutors for potential criminal charges.

"I do not consider that there are reasonable grounds to believe than an officer may have committed an offence," MacDonald wrote.

Authorities attended the busy crossing that evening after a concerned bystander called 911 to report a man – referred to in the findings as "affected person," or AP – was staring over the edge, draped in a sheet or blanket, and potentially contemplating suicide.

Accounts of what happened next differ between police and civilian witnesses, with multiple bystanders recalling, with varying degrees of certainty, that AP was unarmed.

One woman, who also feared for the man's mental state, told the IIO she saw a police car arrive with lights and sirens activated, and that AP "jumped into the roadway" and approached officers after they exited the vehicle.

"She did not recall seeing any weapons in his hands, which she said were down by his sides. She said both officers drew guns, and at this point were approximately five metres from AP," the watchdog's summary reads.

Another civilian witness, who was driving over the Granville Street Bridge at the time and briefly stopped behind a parked police car, said he saw the man "flailing his arms in the air, hands open and empty," according to the summary.

That witness said AP "appeared to be arguing with police, though not in an aggressive manner."

For their part, police told the IIO they approached with caution, with one of the first responding officers – the one who would eventually open fire, who is referred to in the findings as "subject officer," or SO – parking 40 to 50 feet away so he would not "trigger" the man wrapped in a sheet.

Authorities said only the vehicle's rear emergency lights were activated.

Witness officers described a confrontation that escalated with AP pulling a knife out of his pants and running at police.

One officer attempted to subdue the man with a Taser, firing twice with little effect, potentially because AP was wearing loose-fitting clothing.

Another officer was retrieving a beanbag shotgun from the trunk of his vehicle when he heard two gunshots ring out.

AP, whose name has not been publicly released, was later pronounced dead at the scene.

The IIO's chief civilian director found the evidence favoured the recollections of law enforcement, pointing to the video in particular as establishing that officers faced the possibility of "death or grievous bodily harm," which warrant lethal force under the Criminal Code.

"The evidence in this case leaves no doubt that when SO fired his pistol at AP, there was an imminent threat from AP to assault the officers," MacDonald wrote. "The video shows that he ran at them in a clearly assaultive manner."

While the video recording was too grainy to confirm whether the man was carrying a weapon, MacDonald noted there was a "bright spot consistent with a reflection of headlights from something shiny in his hand."

The IIO described the civilian witnesses' accounts as less reliable, noting that some misidentified the kind of police vehicles at the scene and one described plainclothes officers as having worn "SWAT" attire.

"While it is understandable that civilians seeing police officers in a confrontation over a period of mere seconds might ‘project’ typical police clothing or equipment onto them in memory, those memory glitches tend to undermine specific memories about whether, for example, a hand of a running man in the dark was empty or gripping the handle of a weapon," MacDonald said.

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