A 'very chaotic' few minutes: Sask. Mountie shot Brydon Whitstone because he thought he had a gun

* This story is based on statements given during this week's coroner's inquest, which is not a criminal trial. 

Soon after shooting Brydon Whitstone and then trying to revive the 22 year old, North Battleford RCMP patrol officer Jerry Abbott sat by a tree and began writing down what had just happened.

His bloody hands shook so badly that when he re-read his notes later, he could barely decipher them, he said. 

As Abbott and his former co-workers told an ongoing coroner's inquest this week, Whitstone of Onion Lake Cree Nation led officers in North Battleford on a brief but messy police chase through several residential blocks on Oct. 21, 2017.

The chase ended at an intersection where, despite repeated orders from many officers to put his hands up and surrender, Whitstone not only tried to drive away but gestured with his hands in a way that officers thought was threatening.

"I thought there was a gun at play," Abbott told the inquest.  

The Regina Police Service investigated the shooting. They did not recommend criminal charges against Abbott, after consulting provincial Crown prosecutors.

What started it all

RCMP members had heard a call earlier in the evening about a gun being fired from a car. The car sounded like the white Buick LeSabre Whitstone was driving. 

So when Whitstone later reached down with his hands, Abbott thought he was grabbing for a weapon. Standing about three feet away, Abbott shot Whitstone twice in the chest through the front driver's window. 

"We're taught to stop a threat," said Abbott Wednesday when asked if he could have merely disabled Whitstone by shooting him the arm.

'Trigger-happy' 

After Abbott's testimony, Dorothy Laboucane, Whitstone's mother, stood on the front steps of the Battleford Court of Queen's Bench building and read out a statement addressed to her son's shooter.

She called Abbott "trigger-happy."

"He just wanted to play the hero," she said.

On Friday, the six-person inquest jury is expected to make recommendations on how to prevent deaths like Whitstone's.

Laboucane has her own advice for the RCMP.

"Get their information right," she said.

The wrong man 

The RCMP has confirmed that another man, Dalton Checkosis, was ultimately tied to the original shooting complaint.  Checkosis was charged with unauthorized possession of a firearm, possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose and breach of recognizance.

By the time Checkosis appeared in North Battleford Provincial Court last June — after 12 previous court appearances — he was convicted only of breach of recognizance and criminal harassment.  

He was sentenced to six days in jail, factoring in time served.

Albert Whitstone

Whitstone was initially pursued by Constable Matthew McKay. Whitstone had failed to stop for McKay, who had turned on his police lights.

Abbott, meanwhile, was assigned to patrolling rural areas that night. He was driving back from Sweetgrass First Nation, located approximately 30 kilometres kilometres west of North Battleford, when he heard the call about the weapons complaint. 

"We call that a Priority 1 call. All hands on deck, basically," said Abbott. 

He drove as fast as he could to the intersection. 

Whitstone ignored orders

Soon, Whitstone and his passenger, Amanda Wahobin, were surrounded. Whitstone had collided with two RCMP vehicles before the Buick crashed into a fire hydrant. Constables Garret Dove and Marco Johnson both left their damaged vehicles and raced to the intersection, guns drawn.  

The inquest heard that at least six RCMP vehicles were at the scene. Constable Greg Hugo said it was a "very chaotic and intense and adrenaline-rushing" few minutes. 

The passenger and driver side windows were smashed out with batons, and one officer fired pepper spray into the vehicle.

"No change," said Abbott of Whitstone's behaviour. 

Saskatchewan Crimestoppers

Officers yelled at Whitstone to come out, said Hugo: "Put up your hands. Get out of the vehicle."

Instead, Whitstone kept trying to put the boxed-in car in forward and then reverse, Abbott said. 

At one point, Abbott saw Whitstone put his hands on the wheel, lifting his fingers. "As if to say, 'I'm done,'" said Abbott. Abbott prepared to holster his pistol. 

"As I'm putting it down, [Whitstone]... sticks both hands in his pants."

Abbott said he thought Whitstone was reaching for a gun and yelled as much to other officers, despite never seeing a gun. He fired once at Whitstone's chest, near his heart. 

'Like nothing I'd ever seen before'

According to Constable Trevor Sowers, the wounded Whitstone reached into his waistband again. 

"It was like nothing I'd ever seen before," said Sowers, adding that, given Whitstone's actions and the original call about a weapon being fired, he considered Whitstone a threat.

"It's not normal to not listen to the commands that were given," echoed Johnson.

Abbott fired again. Whitstone didn't move after that.

"I recall his eyes fading," said Johnson.  With the help of Abbott, Johnson lifted Whitstone through the window and onto the ground.

A paramedic pronounced Whitstone dead about 20 minutes later, after paramedics and several officers, including Abbott, tried to bring back Whitstone's heartbeat.

"We lost him," Hugo remembers Abbott saying as Abbott checked Whitstone's pulse.

"Do you blame Brydon for your shooting him?" asked Mark Ebert, one of two lawyers representing the Whitstone family. Ebert immediately retracted the question. 

Abbott said he was transferred to another detachment two months ago.

Discrepancies

Officers who testified agreed on several things. They all said it was a very fast-moving situation. And they all worried that Whitstone posed a potential safety risk to officers and the general public.  

But in some areas, Abbott's testimony was at odds with those of his fellow officers, all of whom were noticeably younger than Abbott. 

Johnson said that the shots went off as he was near Whitstone's window and preparing to grab Whitstone's head. Sowers said it went off as he and Johnson were trying to pull Whitstone out of the vehicle. Abbott said he did not remember either Johnson or Sowers being there at that moment. 

Sowers remembered being concerned afterward that "I could have been shot."

Johnson said he saw Whitstone's right hand reaching down toward his crotch, outside of his jeans. Abbott and Sowers said they saw Whitstone digging inside his pants. 

"[Johnson] wished he knew whether there was a firearm in the vehicle or not." - RCMP Constable Greg Hugo, speaking of a fellow officer at the Whitstone shooting scene

No weapon was found on Whitstone, the inquest has heard, though 13 bullets were found on his clothing and a 14th round was discovered in his stomach, as if swallowed. 

A couple days after the shooting, Hugo texted with Johnson.

"[Johnson] wished he knew whether there was a firearm in the vehicle or not," said Hugo.

The coroner's inquest will continue Thursday with testimony from the most senior officer who was at the Whitstone scene, plus the pathologist and the toxicologist on the case.