The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. (IIOBC) has cleared Victoria police of any wrongdoing in the November 2014 fatal shooting of 20-year-old Rhett Mutch.
At the same time, the IIOBC’s report raises “significant questions” about why police officers allowed the situation to occur at all.
The report by IIOBC chief civilian director Richard Rosenthal describes a tragic sequence of events.
On November 1, 2014, four officers responded to a call from Mutch’s mother. Mutch had repeatedly expressed a desire to end his life. He also had a “no go” order applied against him that made contact with his mother at her home a breach of probation conditions. Now, he had broken a window, entered his mother’s home, and was holding a steak knife and threatening to use it on himself.
But when Mutch’s mother greeted the first officers to arrive on the scene, she repeatedly told them her son was holding the knife against himself and that officers “don’t need a gun”.
“He’s not going to hurt anybody with it,” she said.
“He’s not going to hurt me,” she repeated. “He’s not going to hurt anybody.”
Mutch’s mother was escorted out of her home and made to wait inside a police car. Officers then engaged Mutch and spent several minutes talking to the young man before the encounter turned fatal. A neighbour is paraphrased in the IIOBC’s report stating they heard police officers repeatedly shouting instructions at Mutch for him to drop the knife he was holding.
According to several officers’ recollection of events, Mutch then got up from a couch he had been sitting on and began to move toward the nearest officer. He was shot in the thigh with a nonlethal beanbag round and then, in quick succession, shot again, this time in the neck with a bullet.
The IIOBC found that response was appropriate.
“The physical evidence appears to corroborate the officers’ statements that the affected person was close enough to the officers at the time that he was shot to be considered a lethal threat,” its report reads. “Due to the close quarters, retreat was not possible and the officers were legally permitted to defend themselves with the use of both the bean bag shotgun and their firearms.”
The IIOBC’s questions about the incident relate to why the officers were in the house with Mutch in such close quarters to begin with.
The report notes that the mother was safely in a police car outside and that it had been confirmed there was no one else in the house. It asks why officers did not shift tactics to a “barricade” situation, where they could have isolated Mutch inside the house and prolonged negotiations that might have allowed for the situation to be resolved without the loss of life.
“Given the totality of the circumstances, there are significant questions that need to be asked as to why the officers were inside the residence at all, at the moment the shots were fired,” the IIOBC writes.
According to the report, between five and six minutes passed between when Victoria police officers made contact with Mutch and when a firearm was discharged.
That makes the length of time officers spent attempting to de-escalate the situation significantly longer than that of many other police shootings in B.C.
As the Straight has reported many times now, an analysis of fatal encounters with B.C. police reveals a pattern. When someone dies, it is common for police to have fired their weapons within the first few minutes or even within 60 seconds of officers making contact with the troubled individual.
On May 16, the Straight reported that an IIOBC investigation into the Transit Police shooting of Naverone Woods found that officers on the scene at a Safeway in Surrey fired the shots that killed Woods within 60 seconds of their arrival. The IIOBC cleared officers involved in that incident of any wrongdoing.
In November 2014, Vancouver police officers shot and killed Phuong Na (Tony) Du less than two minutes after they arrived to apprehend him at the intersection of Knight Street and East 41st Avenue. Similar to the incident in which Mutch was killed, Du was also hit with a nonlethal beanbag round just before he was shot with a firearm. An IIOBC investigation is ongoing.