WEST VANCOUVER POLICE DEPARTMENT
October 17, 2011
Update from Chief Constable Pete Lepine regarding the WVPD investigation into the Prince George RCMP’s
use of a Conducted Energy Weapon (Taser) on an 11-year-old boy.
In my last update on September 16th, I committed to release a more detailed justification of my conclusion not to recommend criminal charges against any of the RCMP members involved in the tasering of an 11-year-old boy in Prince George in April.
As I have mentioned, my challenge has been to strike a balance between my commitments to transparency and public accountability, and my obligation to protect the welfare of the boy who was tasered, while also respecting and supporting the integrity of other ongoing investigations into this incident. To meet that challenge, I have consulted with the various agencies conducting investigations and have also reached out to organizations, such as the BC Civil Liberties Association, for input and advice on how to proceed. I am now confident in offering the following account of the facts revealed by the WVPD investigation that influenced my decision not to recommend criminal charges.
At 5:30 p.m. on April 7th, the Prince George RCMP were called to a residential address in Prince George. The initial report was that an adult at that address had been stabbed by an 11-year-old boy. While en route to the scene, and immediately after arriving at the scene, the responding officers got the following additional information from adult witnesses to the incident, the lead up, and the aftermath:
- After the stabbing the boy had fled, to a trailer on the property, where he had access to knives.
- Prior to police arrival on-scene, the boy had taken possession of a bottle of wine and had been seen drinking it. He had also been seen walking around the residence with a knife.
- By the time the police arrived on scene, the boy had barricaded himself inside the main residence, which was estimated to be 8,000 square feet over multiple levels.
- There were no other people in the residence but there were three dogs with the boy and he had access to knives and other weapons.
- Adult witnesses provided the following information to officers about the boy as the incident unfolded:
o The boy was hearing impaired but was without his hearing aids as they had been damaged in a previous, unrelated incident.
o He was prone to extremely violent outbursts, during which he exhibited extraordinary strength for his age and size, and presented a viable threat to his own safety as well as the safety of adults attempting to manage his outburst.
o He would not back down from physical confrontation with adults and was likely a high risk to attack officers if they approached him suddenly or unexpectedly.
o During past violent outbursts and physical confrontations, it had taken coordinated efforts by two adults to manage the situation while reducing the likelihood of injury to the boy or the adults.
o There were “warning signs” when he was about to have a violent outburst. One of those warnings was when the boy made “the sign of the cross”. According to adult witnesses that was an indication that “things were going to get bad”.
In response to this information, the officers decided to take up a safe position on the property from which they could monitor the boy’s behaviour and devise a plan to safely take him into custody. Given the assessment of the boy provided by adult witnesses and what was known about the size and layout of the residence, as well as the boy’s access to weapons, officers immediately determined that forced entry of the residence was not a reasonable option as it carried an extremely high risk to the safety of the boy, the officers and anyone else on the property. Officers decided that negotiating with the boy to come out of the house would be the most effective and safest option to de-escalate and resolve the situation.
The first opportunity to communicate with the boy came when he appeared at a small second story window. One of the officers attempted to communicate with the boy. The boy eventually opened the window, used a knife to cut out the window screen and extended his upper body out the window while keeping the knife clearly visible. Officers ceased communication based on their concern that the boy would fall from the window.
Prior to the boy appearing at the window, officers observed him slashing his sweatshirt and running the knife blade over the palm of his hand and up and down his arms. Officers also observed him displaying his middle finger in their direction. Officers interpreted the gesture as a demonstration of the boy’s lack of respect for police and were aware that this would be a challenge for them in attempting to negotiate with him. Officers also witnessed the boy throw a wine bottle and then a wine glass out of the window.
The second opportunity to communicate with the boy came when he requested some personal effects. Officers accommodated the request in an attempt to negotiate the boy’s exit from the residence. The effects were left on the front porch and the boy briefly came outside to retrieve them. Again, he kept a knife with him at all times and, while outside on the porch, officers and adult witnesses saw him make “the sign of the cross” in front of his chest. The boy then quickly went back into the residence. He came outside again a short time later and posted a note on the wall. During his second foray onto the porch, he continued to keep the knife with him at all times. After posting the note, the boy again quickly went back inside. He then appeared to be monitoring the officers’ reaction to his note. Officers were not able to read the note as it was illegible.
At this point, the officers reassessed the incident and came to three conclusions:
- Their attempts to de-escalate and resolve the incident (e.g., visible presence on scene, attempts at verbal communication, accommodation of demands) were not having the intended outcome.
- Information provided by adult witnesses, and the behaviour witnessed by the officers, indicated that the boy was a risk to himself and that he was growing increasingly frustrated with the incident.
- Information provided by adult witnesses regarding the boy’s capacity for extreme violence, his access to weapons and his willingness to engage in violence and use weapons against adults indicated that physical confrontation with the boy would present an extremely high risk to all involved unless officers could immediately gain physical control over the boy and seize any weapon he may have with him.
During their reassessment, officers agreed that their attempts at de-escalation had not had the intended outcome. They also agreed that, while the incident could not be left unresolved, it had not escalated to the point where lethal force was an appropriate option for resolution. Therefore, the officers decided that the Conducted Energy Weapon (i.e., the Taser) would be their best force option for resolving the incident as safely as possible, provided they could get into a position where the Taser, if deployed, would make physical contact with the boy and immobilize him.
The officers devised their plan as follows: On the previous two occasions when the boy had briefly appeared on the porch holding a knife, he had quickly dashed back into the house. Officers decided, based on this, that if the boy exited the house a third time, they would have a very brief window of opportunity to deploy the Taser in order to gain control of the boy and confiscate the knife. Officers believed that if deployment of the Taser was unsuccessful that direct confrontation with the boy armed with a knife in close range could require use of lethal force, an option that the officers wanted to avoid.
Based on their plan, officers communicated with the boy and asked him to come onto the porch to clarify the content of the note he had posted the last time he was outside. When the boy came out on the porch, he was again holding what officers believed to be a knife. The officers saw their window of opportunity and enacted their plan. The Taser was deployed in a single cycle and the boy was immobilized long enough for the officers to gain physical control over him and seize what turned out to be not a knife but a pen. Once the boy was physically secure, officers immediately removed the Taser probes from his back and had him transported to hospital. The boy remained in the hospital overnight for observation and was released the next morning.
The WVPD investigation determined that, from the time officers arrived on scene to the time the Taser was deployed, officers spent more than 40 minutes trying to de-escalate and gain control of the situation. The officers’ observations, which were confirmed by the adult witnesses on scene, were that the boy had the ability, the intent and the means to cause harm to himself and to others. These observations were the foundation for a use of force plan that was intended to bring the incident to the swiftest and safest resolution possible, given the circumstances.
Upon the conclusion of the initial phase of our investigation, which included securing witness statements and collecting forensic evidence, we sought the opinion of a recognized subject matter expert (SME) in the field of police use of force. The SME determined that the officers’ decisions were sound, appropriate to the situation and in keeping with their training and existing policy.
After reviewing all of the information, including the SME’s opinion, it was clear to me that the officers involved responded to a dynamic, and potentially deadly incident, in a measured, appropriate and professional manner and that the level of force they planned for, and ultimately used, was commensurate with the overall threat presented, in keeping with the provisions of Section 25 of the Criminal Code of Canada.
I understand and expect that there will be those who believe that my decision to publicize these details is an attempt to vilify the 11-year-old boy in order to exonerate the police. I can assure all of you that everyone involved in the original incident, as well as the investigation, was fully aware and sensitive to the fact that the police were dealing with a child. However, ultimately, the boy’s age was secondary to the fact that his apprehension was deemed necessary in order to prevent him from causing further grievous bodily harm or death. The WVPD investigation also concluded that if the officers had decided not to take overt action to apprehend the child quickly, they would likely have been subjected to harsh criticism for standing idly by while the child harmed himself or someone else. For this reason, and despite the understandable public reaction of shock, I not only deem the officers’ actions to be appropriate to the situation, I deem them commendable for their commitment to devising and carrying out a rational plan to resolve a potentially deadly situation.