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Police watchdog clears Saanich officer who shot armed driver in 2023 stop

Police dog, handler also cleared in Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia report
A pair of Saanich officers committed no crimes when a man was shot and subdued by police dog during a traffic stop on Highway 17 last spring, according to the provincial police watchdog. (Black Press Media file photo)

A pair of Saanich officers committed no crimes after shooting a man, who was then subdued by a police dog, during a traffic stop on Highway 17 last spring, according to the provincial police watchdog.

The stop was a little out of the ordinary from the start, according to information in the March 20 report by the Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia (IIO), which investigates police actions where someone is hurt or killed.

IIO does not force officers who are being investigated to submit notes, reports or data. In this investigation, neither officer provided any account to the IIO, but three paramedics, 13 witness officers and the man who was shot did provide statements.

On April 28, 2023 a man missed a mandatory hourly check in with the probation office prompting Saanich police to check out his house.

Officers spotted an SUV headed out of the neighbourhood, realized it belonged to a family member and subsequently tracked and stopped the vehicle on the Pat Bay Highway (Highway 17).

READ ALSO: Public hearing date set for Victoria officer in relation to woman’s death

What officers didn’t know, was the driver was in “a dark place” and had picked up a handgun and vodka earlier in the day.

The driver told IIO investigators he only had partial memories from the day, but remembered not answering curfew calls, that he was drinking at home and putting the gun to his head in the driveway. He could not remember if it was loaded. The man said he doesn’t remember leaving the house, but only waking up in hospital three days later.

When an officer approached the pulled-over SUV that night, they recognized the driver as the person they sought and told him to get out of the vehicle. When the driver declined, police said he was under arrest.

As officers arrived to help get the man out of the vehicle, the driver pulled out a pistol and pointed it at his own head.

Officers backed up and took cover behind police vehicles.

Police stopped traffic and evacuated residents from their vehicles and called in the Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team.

Before the specialized team could arrive, officers reported hearing the driver “racking” his firearm; seeing him flick the vehicle’s interior lights on and off; and appeared to prepare to drive away.

READ ALSO: Crown to consider charges against Victoria police officer in shooting death

Officers ordered him out of the vehicle, and this time he complied, though with a pistol in his right hand. One witness officer with a clear view described him as “brandishing” the pistol as he stepped toward the officers, who were sheltered behind police vehicles and stopped civilian vehicles.

An officer fired a single rifle shot from across the highway, hitting the man who fell to the pavement with his pistol still within reach. As the man continued to move, a police dog was deployed, which bit and pulled the man away from the firearm.

The weapon was found to be unloaded.

The man was taken to hospital with a gunshot wound to his right-side lower abdomen and significant dog bite wounds.

Because the officer used lethal force (standard firearm), the IIO had to determine the officer believed it was “necessary for the self-preservation of [the officer] or the preservation of any one under [the officer’s] protection from death or grievous bodily harm,” according to the report from chief civilian director Ronald J. MacDonald.

His March 20 report notes there is no way to know the intent of the man, identified as – affected person or AP – who got out of his vehicle and walked toward police with a pistol in-hand. It’s not unreasonable to “consider those actions as posing an immediate and critical threat to officers and to deploy lethal force in their defence.”

The use of the police service dog was also appropriate, he found. “Given AP’s previous behaviour, it was reasonable to view him as a continuing threat to officers’ safety while still within reach of the firearm (the officers, of course, had no way to know it was not loaded). The limited use of the dog to move him away from the gun was justifiable, and was certainly preferable to further use of lethal force.”

The report concludes neither officer committed an offence meaning the matter will not be referred to Crown counsel for consideration of charges.

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