Man who died at Nanaimo ferry terminal shot himself as police fired, police watchdog says

Man who died at Nanaimo ferry terminal shot himself as police fired, police watchdog says
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WARNING: This story contains graphic details, which may disturb some readers

British Columbia’s police watchdog has found that the RCMP officers did not commit any offence after a man was shot and died after he drove off a vessel at the Departure Bay ferry terminal in Nanaimo back in May.

The Independent Investigations Office (IIO), which probes all police-involved incidents that result in death or serious harm said the suspect, who police had arranged to arrest, shot himself in the head at the same time two police officers shot the suspect in the chest.

The pistol, a .22 caliber with a silencer welded to it, was seized from the suspect's car. Credit: IIO.

The pistol, a .22 caliber with a silencer welded to it, was seized from the suspect’s car. Measuring square is 150 mm by 300 mm. Credit: IIO.

“The evidence is clear that the [suspect], while surrounded by police, raised his gun and shot himself in the head. That was his only intention. However, as he did this, the gun would have been pointed at several police officers,” Ronald MacDonald, IIO chief civilian director, wrote in the report released on Monday.

On May 8, at approximately 10:15 a.m., the suspect disembarked from a ferry in a car at the Departure Bay ferry terminal. Nanaimo RCMP has been reported stolen from its owner in a violent car-jacking in Penticton and had been located on one of the vessels. Police believed the suspect produced a firearm in another incident that occurred shortly before the car-jacking.

As the car left the vessel, police separated it from the rest of the vehicles and forced it to stop. According to the report, the suspect then reached into the passenger seat of the car, raised a long-barrelled handgun and fatally shot himself in the head. At the same time, two officers fire their 9 mm police-issue firearms and delivered what would have been fatal gunshot injuries to the suspect’s chest.

Eight bullet holes visible in the windshield of the suspect's car. Credit: IIO.

Eight bullet holes visible in the windshield of the suspect’s car. Credit: IIO.

The IIO was notified by RCMP at 10:50 a.m. and started an investigation. Evidence that was collected included statements from 31 civilian witnesses, statements from 11 police officers, British Columbia Emergency Health Services records, recordings of police transmissions, CCTV from BC Ferries, firearms analysis reports, the toxicology report, cellphone video, photographs and medical records.

The two officers who fire at the suspect declined to provide a statement, notes, reports or data. Pursuant to section 17.4 of the Memorandum of Understanding between the IIO and BC Police Agencies and consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, officers who are the subject of an investigation are not required to provide a statement or submit their notes, reports and data.

The report states that six of the civilian witnesses were positioned close to the incident or indirectly involved, including two BC Ferries employees, one paramedic and three bystanders. Three people who knew the suspect personally but were not involved in the incident.

According to the witnesses, the ferry captain was contacted and advised that the car the suspect was driving was in the first 20 vehicles that would disembark the vessel from the upper deck and the ship’s crew would hold all traffic behind the suspect vehicle.

Seven Nanaimo RCMP officers arrived in four vehicles, including a black unmarked SUV, a white unmarked van and two unmarked police pickup trucks. The vehicles were parked under the ramps used to load cars on the upper decks of the ferries.

Aerial view of the final positions of the car and the four police vehicles, as well as the location of the suspect and the seven officers. Credit: IIO.

Aerial view of the final positions of the car and the four police vehicles, as well as the location of the suspect and the seven officers. Credit: IIO.

When the suspect drove off the ship, the police vehicles followed and surrounded the car with the van pulling in front of the suspect. The report states the suspect tried to pass the van on the right, which is when the front bumper on the passenger side of the van hit the rear driver’s side of the car. The car then spun in a counterclockwise direction.

The other police vehicles moved to pin the car to prevent any attempts to leave. The SUV was nose to nose with the suspect’s car and the other police vehicles were in close proximity. Witnesses reported seeing officers get out of their vehicles and draw their firearms. They also reported hearing a number of shots but could not identify who had fired.

After shots were fired, paramedics who were staged in the area were directed to travel to the scene with lights and sirens on. A paramedic saw the suspect lying on his back in a pool of blood with his hands cuffed behind his back. Officers were applying pressure to injuries.

According to the report, the suspect had a very serious head injury, three gunshot wounds to the abdomen, a gunshot wound to his collarbone and one to the left bicep. The paramedic was told by an officer that the head wound was self-inflicted, while the other wounds were inflicted by police.

The paramedic told the IIO the suspect had a pulse and ventilation was started however within minutes the monitor showed that although the suspect’s heart was firing, there was insufficient blood volume. Paramedics and officers continued CPR as the suspect was transferred to the Nanaimo Regional Hospital. Resuscitation efforts were continued but the man was pronounced dead 20 to 30 minutes later.

The three civilians who were not involved with the police incident said the suspect had stated over the phone that he had “wasted somebody” and had stolen a car. The suspect had also said multiple times, “I’m not going to jail. The police are gonna have to shoot me…” Another witness also described a firearm that the suspect had shown them a month before the incident. The description matched the firearm found in the car.

Background evidence showed the suspect had faced several significant recent challenges, including an injury that prevented him from working and a serious substance addiction. It was also confirmed he was involved in a recent shooting where he thought he had taken someone’s life. That person did not die in the shooting.

“His conversations with persons known to him demonstrated he was feeling very desperate about his life,” the report states.

One witness recorded the incident with a cellphone. The distance the video was recorded from does not allow the viewer to discern identifying features, the report sates. However, at the start of the video, the passenger side of the car is visible and the driver’s door of the SUV can be seen opening. An officer then gets out and another officer appears at the back of the SUV. A truck passes the officers and stops between the video camera and the car. The officer seen at the back of the SUV follows the first officer toward the car and passes the open door of the SUV. A total of eight shots can be heard in the video.

BC Ferries CCTV videos show the car coming down a ramp and the police van passing and moving to the lane ahead of the car. As the vehicles continue along the exit lanes, the van stops for a minute and the car is seen moving to the right and attempting to get by the van on the right. According to the report, a CCTV video shows the van moving forward as the car passes the van. Both move out of frame.

In another CCTV video, an SUV collides with the car and SUV driver’s door opens. The truck moves to the back of the car. The movement of the officers or the incidence cannot be seen due to the distance video.

Five witness officers who were at the terminal were interviewed by the IIO. The officer who led the operation to arrest the suspect said police had an obligation to stop the suspect as soon as possible to prevent any further violent incidents. The officer also believed that because the suspect was thought to be armed, the safest way to stop and arrest the suspect was to isolate him from the public as he left the ferry.

“As a result, all involved officers that were interviewed assessed the risk as high or very high,” the report reads.

That officer said they told the officers who were shooting at the suspect to stop firing when they saw the suspect had shot himself. The officer then opened the door of the car, saw the pistol on the passenger seat and removed the suspect from the car to begin to first aid.

The officer said as the suspect raised his pistol, it pointed toward the windshield and the officer who was on the other side of the windshield. Two other officers reported being in the line of fire.

“Given that the [suspect] used the gun to immediately shoot himself, it can be concluded he did not intend on shooting at the police. However, it is equally clear that it was very reasonable for the officers present to believe their life was in danger as the gun was raised,” the report reads.

An autopsy concluded the cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds. A pathologist said the wound to the upper left chest and to the right temple each would have been fatal on their own. The pathologist also said it was not possible to determine which shot occurred first. Toxicological testing also showed that the suspect had fentanyl in his body at a level “within a range where lethal outcomes have been reported.” Toxicity is dependent on individual tolerance and how the drug was administered.

The report concludes that the officers who shot the suspect had to act quickly to protect themselves, their fellow officers and the public.

“Following a review of all the evidence collected during the course of the investigation, the facts demonstrate the [suspect] appeared to be in a desperate state, and his actions presented a life-threatening situation to the police present. Their actions were both justified and consistent with their duties as police officers. Thus there is no evidence that Officers 1 and 2 committed any offence,” MacDonald concludes in the report.

The name of the suspect has never been released by RCMP.

Alexa HuffmanAlexa Huffman

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