A police watchdog has cleared a Whitehorse RCMP officer of wrongdoing in firing a shot at a man who showed up at his ex-father-in-law's house with a rifle in 2020 and ignored officers' orders to keep his hands visible.
In a report published this month, the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT), which has an agreement with the Yukon to investigate serious police incidents in the territory, concluded that the officer's use of force was necessary.
No one was injured in the 2020 incident.
The report does not name the man who was shot at, or the officers involved.
According to the ASIRT report, Whitehorse RCMP officers were dispatched to a home in the Porter Creek neighbourhood shortly before noon on March 2, 2020, after a man carrying a rifle went to his ex-father-in-law's home and banged on the front door.
The ex-father-in-law called 911 and the man, not receiving a response at the door, went and sat in his truck in the driveway.
Two officers arrived in separate vehicles soon after and found the man still in his truck with the driver's side window down.
The first officer got out of his vehicle and yelled, "sir, show me your hands," approximately 12 seconds after arriving. He repeated the command, the report says, and the man "briefly raised his hands" before dropping and raising them again.
The officer yelled at the man to keep his hands "where he could see them" twice more, to which the man again raised and dropped his hands.
The second officer, approximately 27 seconds into the interaction, then fired a shot which hit the top of the truck near the driver's door. The officer then "repeatedly yelled" at the man to keep his hands up, and told him that he was under arrest and to get out of the truck. The man got out, slowly walked toward police and "repeatedly started to lower his hands but raised them again each time he was warned."
Officers arrested him for careless use of a firearm.
RCMP and ASIRT investigators later found a loaded rifle with a bullet in the chamber inside the man's truck on the passenger's side, with additional bullets in the cab.
A rifle located inside a man's truck after he was arrested in Whitehorse in 2020 is circled in white. The man showed up to his ex-father-in-law's house with the rifle and when police arrived, kept dropping his hands out of sight, leading to one officer firing a shot towards his truck. (ASIRT)
Report notes 'dynamic nature of the situation'
In a statement to ASIRT investigators, the man confirmed he'd carried the rifle to "scare" his ex-father-in-law but claimed he was shovelling snow around his truck to get it unstuck when police arrived. Based on video taken from the first officer's vehicle, investigators determined that wasn't true.
The second officer, meanwhile, told ASIRT in a written statement provided by his lawyer that he believed the man still had the rifle, "was possibly planning some type of resistance involving the firearm," and feared for his and other officer's lives. He fired a single shot to "stop the threat," after which the man "raised his hands and became more compliant."
The report concludes the officer's actions were justified based on his belief that the man would use the rifle, and the man's "strange and non-compliant behaviour."
"When looking at the incident from a necessity point of view, it is important to remember the dynamic nature of the situation," the report reads, noting that while the man didn't actually try to shoot, the officer's fear that the rifle was next to the man was legitimate.
"The potential presence of the rifle plus the failure of the [man] to follow police directions combined to create a situation where it was necessary to respond with force," the report says.
"Had the [officer] waited for the [man] to pick up the rifle and shoot, it could have been too late to respond."
A silver dent can be seen on the man's white truck where it was struck by a bullet fired by a Whitehorse RCMP officer. (Alberta Serious Incident Response Team)
While the report says there were "no reasonable grounds" to believe the officer committed an offence, it also says that "some greater care" in initiating contact with the man, such as standing further away, might have led to a "lower risk situation" and prevented the shooting.
"The close quarters between the officers and the [man] created the dangerous, high-risk situation that led to the [officer] using his firearm," the report says.
"A response that considered the appropriate distance and resources that should be in place before contacting the [man] may have led to a different outcome. While no one was injured or killed here, this situation presented serious risks to all involved."