A police watchdog report shed more light Wednesday on how a deadly police shootout unfolded at a Saanich bank in June, but there are still more questions than answers about how the suspects planned the heist — and why they did it at all.
The Independent Investigations Office report marks the first significant public update on the June 28 shootout in the nearly six months since it happened.
The IIO investigation was launched to determine whether police were justified in using lethal force against Duncan brothers Isaac and Matthew Auchterlonie after they attempted to rob the BMO on Shelbourne Street.
The watchdog’s final report cleared officers of any wrongdoing, detailing the timeline that led up to the brothers engaging police outside the bank in a gunfight that ended with six members injured and the Auchterlonie brothers dead.
During a news conference with the Saanich and Victoria police chiefs Wednesday, questions unanswered in the report were once again raised such as what motivated the brothers to rob a bank in broad daylight, then immediately open fire on responding officers.
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Those answers, said Saanich Police Chief Const. Dean Duthie, would have to come from a pending report being completed by the Vancouver Island Integrated Major Crime Unit.
“That’s a question that many of us have, and I can appreciate that. The ‘why’ question, we’re hoping can be answered, but we don’t know if that’s going to be a reality,” he said. “The VIIMCU investigation into this matter may shed some light onto that when that is concluded and able to be shared with the media and public.”
A B.C. criminologist says the level of detail provided by the IIO report, like the specific type of firearms and body armour used by the suspects, was greater than it could have been, but there are still key questions remaining.
Where did the rifle and body armour come from?
One of those questions is how the brothers procured equipment including high-powered SKS semi-automatic rifles.
“Those are military-style assault rifles,” said SFU criminology professor Rob Gordon. “I don’t know how old they are, but the original models of the SKS rifles came from the Soviet Union. Whether or not they were purchased through the United States or what, I don’t know how old the weapons were, where they got the ammunition from, etc. Those are all important questions.”
The pair also obtained and were wearing body armour, the report confirmed, renewing questions about where 22-year-old twin brothers from Duncan could obtain and afford such equipment.
“Clearly, the police would have brought them down earlier had they not had good quality body armor, so where did that come from?” asked Gordon.
Did the suspects have inside knowledge of the bank?
Gordon also said it remains unclear what sort of planning went in to bank shootout.
Verified posts on Isaac Auchterlonie’s Instagram profile showed footage from a deadly shootout in North Hollywood, California in 1997, suggesting that an encounter was already on his mind prior to the incident.
“I got the sense that these guys, who had apparently clean records, had internal knowledge of the bank, so you know, why they chose that bank, whether they scouted it beforehand, those sorts of questions of course are hard to determine by virtue of the fact that the two offenders are dead,” said Gordon.
“You don’t usually grab some equipment and go rob a bank. Even the most amateurish individual is going to go try and find out what the likely targets are, how much the yield might be. These sorts of things which require some intelligence in terms of banking operations.”
Officers investigate the scene of a deadly shootout near a Saanich Bank that killed two suspects and injured six police officers. June 30, 2022.
Was anyone else involved?
The shootout prompted evacuation alerts in the surrounding area as police eventually revealed they were searching for a possible third suspect.
Police have never definitively ruled out the possibility a third person may have been involved, previously saying they received “vague information” that led them to search for another suspect. Subsequent investigation did not indicate there was an unidentified accomplice, according to an update from police in the days after the shooting.
However, one witness held hostage inside the bank told CHEK News earlier this year that she adamantly believes there were three suspects involved.
“There was some suggestion that there were third and even fourth parties that would account for the fact that they, being the two brothers, stood around for some time before making their escape with the fistful of dollars that they had,” said Gordon.
Why did they do it?
Perhaps the biggest outstanding question, one repeatedly asked by those following the case, is why the suspects were seemingly well-prepared for a showdown — and whether that was their ultimate goal.
Other posts on Isaac’s Instagram page showed multiple images and videos of the brothers firing weapons and anti-government language. It was also previously revealed that Mathew had applied to be part of the Canadian Armed Forces but did not pass an aptitude test.
However, investigators have not released any information that would provide clues as to the motives of the brothers, who have been described by former classmates as “shy and quiet.”
Duthie said Wednesday some form of an answer could be revealed in the yet-to-be-released VIIMCU report. For now, Gordon says, the only theories are based off speculation.
“Is this an example of what’s often referred to as suicide by cop? I don’t think so. There’s a piece of the puzzle that’s missing, and it’s a very important piece,” he said.
Unlike law enforcement in the U.S., police departments in Canada generally hold off on providing details like suspected motive until a case has either been closed or forwarded for charges, often citing the need to protect their investigations.
Gordon says one reason police may not be releasing more information on the Saanich bank shootout publicly is to draw out anyone else who may have information on the case.
“I have just have a feeling that there’s more information that the police are not releasing, for whatever reason. It may be that there are other parties involved in the incident and they want to try and nail those individuals as well,” he said.
Whatever the reason, Gordon said there is some conclusion about why the shootout occurred, and whether there are valuable lessons to learn from it.
“Because this public safety issue here, which I think the public and others are wanting to know, the public should be told what the issues were and are and how the banks in the area are addressing those concerns.”
Duthie did not provide a timeline for when the VIIMCU report would be released.
With files from CHEK’s Kori Sidaway, Ethan Morneau and April Lawrence.