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Officers were justified in shooting man who wanted to commit 'suicide by police,' IIO finds

Emergency crews are seen after a fatal police-involved shooting in Abbotsford, B.C., on Dec. 17, 2023. Emergency crews are seen after a fatal police-involved shooting in Abbotsford, B.C., on Dec. 17, 2023.
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Warning: This story contains details some may find upsetting

The officers who fatally shot a man in Abbotsford last December had a reasonable belief that lethal force was necessary for their own protection, according to the Independent Investigations Office of B.C.

That belief means their actions were justified under the law, the IIO's interim chief civilian director Sandra J. Hentzen concluded in a report on the case released Tuesday

Escorted from hospital

The shooting occurred on Dec. 17, around 10 p.m., but the deceased – referred to throughout the report as the "affected person" or "AP" – had interacted with police earlier in the day, as well. 

Abbotsford police were called in the afternoon to escort AP off the premises of a hospital where he had been receiving treatment, according to the report.

Hospital staff told police the man "wanted to leave, but was acting in an aggressive and angry manner," the report reads, adding that hospital policy required workers to give him back his belongings, which included a knife and pepper spray.

Police officers picked up AP at the hospital and dropped him off at "a shelter," according to the IIO report. There, the man told a shelter worker that he had been arrested earlier and his car had been towed. He had lost his wallet and keys and was unable to retrieve his vehicle, in which he had been living.

The shelter worker, referred to throughout the document as "civilian witness" or "CW," told the IIO that AP was "calm and polite when he arrived," but "became increasingly agitated" over the next few hours.

"She said he told her words to the effect of, 'I can't do this' and 'I don't want to be here anymore,'" the report reads.

"When CW asked him what he meant, AP replied, 'Alive.' CW said she took AP aside, and he told her she might as well call the police 'to come and shoot me in the head, because that's what I want.'"

The man then walked out of the shelter, prompting CW to call 911 out of concern for his welfare.

She told the call-taker that AP had expressed an intention to commit "suicide by police," but said she didn't believe he had any weapons.

Officers arrive

CW turned out to be mistaken in that regard. The officers who caught up with AP on Riverside Road near Highway 1 reported that "he had a large knife and was not following directions to drop it," according to the IIO report, which indicates he also had a can of bear spray.

The initial officers called for backup, and several other officers arrived, including the ones who would eventually shoot AP.

The report describes officers making "numerous" requests for AP to drop the knife, which he ignored.

Two witness officers told the IIO police "were attempting to de-escalate the situation, but AP continued to tell the officers to shoot him," according to the report.

Eventually, the man stood up from the curb, where he had been sitting, and began approaching the officers, one of whom responded by firing a beanbag shotgun at him.

The beanbags did not cause AP to drop his weapons, and as the officer was reloading her non-lethal weapon, the man began approaching more quickly, with one witness officer telling the IIO there appeared to have been "a switch" in AP's mindset.

Multiple officers fired their handguns, and AP sustained "five gunshot wounds to the head, neck and extremities," according to the report.

He was pronounced dead at the scene.

'Justified in law'

Hentzen's analysis of the legality of the shooting is brief, noting the officers' attempts to use non-lethal force to bring AP under control, and describing them as "unfortunately" insufficient.

"At the time officers discharged their weapons, AP clearly posed a threat of grievous bodily harm or death to them," the report reads. "His possession of bear spray was not insignificant in this regard: while not lethal in its own right, it could readily be used to blind and disorient an officer, who would then become more vulnerable to an attack with AP's knife."

"The evidence, including AP's earlier statements and the objective video evidence, indicates that he intended the police to believe lethal force was necessary for their own protection. That belief, in these circumstances, was reasonable and the officers' actions were therefore justified in law."

The IIO is tasked with investigating all incidents involving police in B.C. that result in death or serious harm to a member of the public, regardless of whether there is an allegation of wrongdoing on the part of police.

Editor’s note: If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental health, there are a number of ways to get help, including by calling Talk Suicide Canada at 1-833-456-4566. A list of local resources is also available here

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