A civilian-led independent investigation into how police responded to a suicidal individual in New Westminster involving gunfire has determined that officers acted within authorization by law.
The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. released its report about the case on May 9.
At 9:39 p.m. on February 24, an “affected person” who called the New Westminster Police Department (NWPD) non-emergency line said he was at the parking lot of a Wal-Mart at 805 Boyd Street and that he was about to commit suicide with a firearm.
According to the IIO report, he explained by phone that he contacted police because he didn’t want anyone else to find his body or to steal the firearm he was using as he did not want to endanger the public.
Police contained the scene by closing all access ways to the parking lot by 10:19 p.m.
Two police officers approached the male, turned on their emergency lights of their unmarked police SUV, and commanded him several times to show them his hands but did not receive any response. Both officers drew their firearms.
The man hunched down in a kneeling position and put something in his hands under his chin. After the officers heard a gunshot, the male fell forward face-down after which officers fired their guns.
Forensic processing determined that the officers had fired four lethal bullets but none struck the male.
A third officer, who approached from a containment point, fired three non-lethal rubber bullets at the male as he lay unresponsive on the ground (one struck him in the shoulder).
According to the autopsy report, the male died from a self-inflicted wound on his chin from a shotgun, which caused damage to his head and brain, without any other factors contributing to his death.
Video footage from surveillance cameras supported accounts by police witnesses.
Officers found information in his truck that indicated who he wanted to his affairs to be managed by after his death.
In the IIO report, chief civilian director Ronald J. MacDonald concluded by stating that the officers’ use of firearms was “very reasonable” in response to “information that a firearm was involved, and seeing a muzzle flash and hearing a gun shot from the direction of the person they were approaching” and that awareness that the gunfire was not directed at them “only came later”.
MacDonald also stated that the officers had to balance helping the individual with the “duty to protect themselves and their fellow officers”.
Consequently, the IIO won’t be referring the case to Crown counsel for consideration of charges.
If you or someone you know is experiencing depressive or suicidal thoughts, some options for resources include talking to a healthcare professional, such as a doctor, psychologist, or counsellor. If in crisis, contact 911 or go to a hospital immediately.
The Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of B.C. offers 24-hour phone and online distress services (as well as community education). The Crisis Line Association of B.C. (1-800-784-2433) provides 24-hour service for individuals across the province.
Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868) is a national service for children and teenagers.