Crime & Punishment

Crime and justice comment and analysis

Archive for July 2015

Column on police shootings disingenous

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Ordinarily, I wouldn’t criticize another columnist’s opinion. Everyone is entitled to theirs. But I must take exception to National Post columnist Brian Hutchinson’s effort appearing in the Post and in the Vancouver Sun. (Questions raised over police shootings; One man ‘lucky he didn’t get shot’)

His premise, resulting from three recent police shootings in BC, seems to be that the the immediate reaction of the police in violent circumstances is to draw their weapons and shoot someone. He then drew out the circumstances from a violent event in Chilliwack in an incident where the police were attacked by a suspect and they didn’t shoot and somehow reaches the conclusion that this was a rare, “unfamiliar” event.

He conveniently ignores the fact that only some of the tens of thousands of contacts police have with the public turn violent and the police deal with that violence by using force to subdue the person who initiated the violence. And they do so on a daily basis without shooting someone.

Simply put, yes there were three police involved shootings in BC in the past two weeks. All are under investigation by the Independent Investigations Office, the civilian investigative agency formed by the BC government to investigate incidents where police use force which results in serious injury or death. But we know nothing more than what was released in terse press releases. We do not know the circumstances in which police used lethal force and neither does Hutchinson. Unlike him, I won’t rush to judgement.

He also ignores the simple truth that in the vast majority of police involved incidents where lethal violence resulted, the police are found not to have used excessive force.

To make matters worse, Hutchinson uses a case where the police didn’t use lethal force as an example of, well, I’m not exactly sure of what. But he suggests they used “proper judgement in a dangerous situation.” I’m not entirely sure where he obtained the use-of-force training that allows him to reach that conclusion. Perhaps from watching those many episodes of Law & Order over the years?

What I do know about that case is that those officers involved screwed up right out of the gate.

The suspect was involved in a car accident where they first encountered him. The attending officer believed the suspect was intoxicated by something  and, instead of arresting him for further investigation, instructed a female officer to drive him home. And that’s where the trouble started.

His common law wife claimed he stole a car, presumably the one he was driving at the accident scene. A domestic dispute ensued during which prompted the female member to suggest he grab a few things and leave until cooler heads prevailed.

The suspect then grabbed a secreted black handgun – which turned out later to be a pellet pistol – and pointed it at the female member and said, instead, that she should leave. She called for assistance and an ensuing fracas resulted in which he threw a 35 lb. dumbbell at the head the cover officer, kicked him into a wall causing a hole and a broken hand for the officer, was shot with a Taser by the female member – which had no effect I might add – then got the Taser off the female and tried to deploy it against the police. Oh, and he tried to wrestle the male officer’s handgun from his belt.

They never should have put themselves in that position of risk in the first instance in my view. The suspect had a significant criminal history including the abduction of a female. Surely this was known to the RCMP members before dispatching a solitary female member to drive him home? Equally, there was more they could have done to investigate the possible impairment rather than driving him home.

As for the suspect, as told by Judge Richard Browning in his bail hearing to his lawyer, “The reality is he is lucky he didn’t get shot.”  Trust me, the police had every legal right to shoot him and there are those who would argue they should have. That they survived that subsequent altercation is down to blind, good luck not good police procedures.

I did a number of appearances on various media outlets this past week talking about the cluster of police shootings. Is it unusual? Yes. Is it nefarious or an indication of police becoming more prone to using their guns? No, it’s nothing of the sort. In fact, the police use force in only 0.06 per cent of their interactions with the public. And bear in mind that the police see humanity at it’s worst.

Hutchinson also makes this statement in his column: “It can’t be presumed police will investigate themselves fairly in such cases.” I cringe whenever I hear something like that.

All police agencies have a Professional Standards Section and a Major Crimes Section. Unlike those at the IIO, they are professional investigators who know their job is to find the truth, wherever that may lead. Any suggestion to the contrary is insulting.

And finally, the police are held by society to a higher standard. That is as it should be. They know it and if someone tarnishes the badge they all feel it. That person is shunned, not protected, by all those who do their best to serve the citizens the best they can every day.

Hutchinson’s column is disingenuous, at best. Not what I would normally expect from someone with his experience and skills as a writer. It seems like mere sensationalism.


Leo Knight


Written by Leo Knight

July 26, 2015 at 2:30 am

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Despite charges stayed, more questions remain in Starlight Casino case

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The announcement yesterday by the Criminal Justice Branch (CJB) in BC outlining that second degree murder charges against Delta Police Constable Jordan MacWilliams were stayed and the accompanying explanation did little to clarify why charges were laid in the first instance. In fact, it speaks more to the incompetent investigation done by the Independent Investigations Office (IIO). Or perhaps something more nefarious.

In the media release the CJB attached an 8 page document they called “Clear Statement.” Well, it was anything but.

In it, CJB says as a result of the charge being laid, Crown prosecutors conducted “exhaustive” interviews with police officers at the scene at the Starlight Casino on November 8, 2012 and this led them to the conclusion that this case did not meet the charge approval standard in the province.

Well, in the first instance, doesn’t this really say that the investigation conducted by the IIO was sub-standard? Why wouldn’t they have surfaced this information during their interviews? Information such as the suspect’s finger was on the trigger when the gun in his hand moved to horizontal? Information such as there were other officers who had moved their fingers from the finger guard to their own triggers and would have also shot had MacWilliams not shot first?

These are no small matters. The information from the witnesses didn’t change. It’s more likely IIO investigators never asked the right questions. Why then, becomes the next question. Was it the incompetence of the investigators or perhaps, they were trying to come to the conclusion they wanted no matter the truth? Either is a possibility knowing what I know about the IIO.

Whatever the answer to these questions it is very clear that the CJB should not have approved the charge in the first place. None of the circumstances changed, nor has the standard to be met for the charge approval system. It seems to me that for all the reasons outlined by the CJB in their “Clear Statement,” that is exactly why the charge never should have been laid.

The matter of what the officer perceived the threat to be when he made the decision to use lethal force is paramount to the charge. If other officers had the same perception of the threat as did MacWilliams, then clearly no charge should have been laid.

Another aspect in this that is badly explained by the CJB is the reaction time from threat perceived to shots fired. This is known as “perception, processing and action.” Police are trained to minimize the time between perception and action, but it still exists. In this case the time delay was .49 of a second. A blink of an eye. Yet somehow, this became a salient issue in the decision to charge MacWilliams.

Retired Vancouver Police homicide investigator Bob Cooper was incredulous as he read the document especially as it glossed over this aspect. He said via email yesterday, “Any Use of Force expert worth his salt knows this and would have pointed it out in his report because it explains the differences in the perceptions of not just PC Mac Williams but a number of his colleagues as well as opposed to what is seen in the video.”

There are many more questions than answers in this and one hopes the CJB would answer them. But they won’t. They cannot be held accountable for anything they do except by the minister responsible and I have never seen any minister tread that path. The IIO report to the Deputy Minister responsible for the CJB, so again, while there are many questions to be answered in this by the IIO, but that too, seems unlikely.

Charging this officer with murder in these circumstances was an incredible over reach by the IIO and the CJB. Yesterday they stepped back from that over reach and did the right thing. But, they never should have been in this position in the first place.

Jordan MacWilliams was elated yesterday when he got the news from his lawyer David Butcher. This nightmare is finally over for him and he can go back to the job he loves, protecting and serving the citizens. I hope though, for his sake, that his emotional self can recover from the stress and damage done to his psyche by being put through this gut-wrenching experience. Not the shooting. He has said that were he to do it all over, he would do the same thing. For him, the critical thing was that he and his colleagues were able to go home to their families that night.

I mean, of course, going through the experience of being charged for murder when all he did was his job in trying and exigent circumstances. I truly wish him well. And I also truly hope that the CJB, the government, the IIO and the public of British Columbia has learned much from this sordid chapter in our province’s history.


Leo Knight

Written by Leo Knight

July 15, 2015 at 4:39 pm