All police officers involved in June’s lethal bank shootout in Saanich have been cleared of any wrongdoing and should be commended for their bravery, according to a new report from the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) of B.C.
On June 28, around 11 a.m., a police report led officers from Saanich Police, Victoria Police and the Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team (GVERT) to the BMO on Shelbourne Street after two armed men had entered the bank.
A gunfight between police and two suspects ensued, with the pair, twin brothers Mathew and Isaac Auchterlonie from Duncan, eventually shot dead by police as six GVERT officers, three from Saanich Police and three from VicPD, were rushed to hospital suffering gunshot wounds.
Officers showed ‘high level of bravery’
Ronald MacDonald, the IIO’s chief civilian director, penned the report released Wednesday and says more than 100 bullets were exchanged in the gunfight, noting it’s “very fortunate that no police officers lost their lives in this case, it’s quite remarkable, in fact.”
Discussing his 10-page report with CHEK News, MacDonald said both brothers, who were dressed in body armour, combat boots, balaclava-style masks and windbreakers, were armed with high-powered SKS semi-automatic rifles. One had a large sheath knife hanging from his belt.
Caught on CCTV camera, the brothers corralled bank employees and customers before walking to the back vault where they obtained “a very limited amount of cash, and appeared to be disappointed,” according to the report.
“What we found is that there were two armed assailants in the bank, they exited the bank after being in there for a period of many minutes, including a period of time after they had received money where they didn’t leave the bank for several minutes, which is odd,” said MacDonald.
Sixteen minutes after entering the bank, the brothers were met outside by police officers, including some who arrived in an unmarked white van, before “a series of dramatic and violent events then occurred in the space of mere seconds,” according to MacDonald.
“As those officers attempted to engage with these two individuals, almost immediately, the two individuals began shooting at police and police began to return fire,” he said.
“In particular, some officers were directly in the line of fire yet, nevertheless, attempted to return fire to protect both themselves and their colleagues and I found those actions to be quite commendable, obviously in those circumstances.”
One of those tales of heroism involved a GVERT medic who, armed only with a pistol, stepped out of the van and positioned himself in front of his injured colleagues, including one who was shot in the neck.
“He stepped out of the van directly into that line of fire and began shooting at the two armed assailants in an effort to both protect himself and his colleagues. And certainly, that type of action is something that demonstrates a high level of bravery and…deserves to be commended,” said MacDonald.
As the gunfire ceased, officers transitioned rapidly into life-saving first aid for the wounded, some of whom were transported to hospital in police vehicles because of safety concerns for ambulances attending the scene, states the report.
“Arrest teams went to the (suspects) to handcuff them and remove their weapons, but they were both already deceased at this time. Officers entered the bank to check for other suspects and to ensure the safety of the employees and customers,” wrote MacDonald.
“Follow-up investigative work disclosed a large cache of weapons, ammunition and improvised explosive devices in the trunk of the car the Affected Persons had left in the bank parking lot with the trunk slightly opened.”
Watch the full news conference. Story continues below.
Who shot first?
Even after exhaustive analysis conducted by IIO investigators, MacDonald says they’ve been unable to determine who first discharged a firearm in the incident.
The evidence shows, however, that one of the Auchterlonie brothers reacted to police arrival by turning in their direction and raising his rifle.
“But to be honest, my best conclusion, in this case, is that those shots were almost simultaneous,” said MacDonald. “And in any event, given that he was raising the gun toward the officers who were in a very perilous situation, it was appropriate for the other officer who was standing at the south end of the parking lot to fire in an effort to protect his colleagues.”
Nonetheless, officers were responding to a series of calls about an armed robbery in progress and had a duty both to protect the victims and to arrest the perpetrators, wrote MacDonald in his report.
“They were justified in using force to achieve those ends, provided the force used was within the range permitted by the criminal law,” he wrote.
“In this case, that range was effectively determined by the actions of (Mathew and Isaac Auchterlonie). When (they) offered lethal force or the imminent threat of it, the officers were justified in using lethal force in response.”
Internet search history
While noting it’s “pure speculation at this time,” MacDonald says the brothers’ internet search history shows that they had been researching similar types of incidents, including a bank robbery in Los Angeles “which eerily was quite similar.”
“So one can perhaps speculate as to what their motive was. But it’s really not possible to know we weren’t able to find any specific writings or declarations as to why they were going to do this,” added MacDonald.
“The fact that they remained in the bank for those several minutes without attempting to get away with the amount of cash they had received, some might suggest was them attempting to seek some form of engagement with authorities. But again, that’s just speculation and we’ll never know.”
MacDonald’s report is based on collected and analyzed evidence, such as witness statements, audio recordings of 911 calls, CCTV footage, dash cam and cell phone video, and medical history.
The IIO is a civilian-led police oversight agency responsible for conducting investigations into incidents of death or serious harm that may have been the result of the actions or inactions of a police officer, whether on or off duty.
The full report is here.
Police chiefs praise officers
Dean Duthie, Saanich Police chief, said in a subsequent news release that the events shook the community and that he’s “truly grateful for the professional, dedicated, and heroic efforts” showed by attending officers.
“Oversight by the IIO is a vital part of police accountability and transparency, which is very important to earn and maintain the public’s trust and confidence. Their independent and unbiased review of officers’ decisions and actions that day commends their professionalism, courage, and response,” said Duthie.
“We are pleased that this extensive and thorough investigation report provides information and clarity that affords the public an opportunity to gain a stronger understanding of the dire circumstances that required immediate life-saving actions by responding officers.”
Meanwhile, Del Manak, Victoria Police chief, says the IIO report contains detail, some of it disturbing, that paints a clear picture of what officers faced that day.
“I join Chief Duthie in commending the professionalism and courage of the officers and staff who responded that day and in the days following. This report may be difficult for some people to read, including members of the community who witnessed the event,” added Manak.
“We continue to provide support for our staff and encourage everyone affected by this incident to access any resources they have available as we continue to heal together as a community.”
Police say three of the injured officers have returned to work.
@iiobc is issuing a public report today regarding the June 2022 death of two males during an incident involving members of the Saanich and Victoria Police Departments and the Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team in Saanich https://t.co/wUnPwPgUCh
— IIOBC (@iiobc) December 21, 2022