A report from the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. criticized the storage of weapons at an RCMP detachment in Prince George, but ultimately says there does not appear to be evidence of criminal wrongdoing in the case of a man who was shot in the groin while in custody.
The report, released Friday, stems from an incident that occurred in the north-central B.C. city on July 11, 2022 while an arrested man was being processed in the booking area of the RCMP detachment.
"In the course of his processing, he was able to access a pepper spray canister and discharge it at officers," Ronald J. MacDonald, chief civilian director with the Independent Investigations Office (IIO), writes in his summary of facts.
"[He] was then struck in the groin by a bullet ... and was taken to hospital for treatment."
The IIO investigates anytime police action or inaction leads to injury or death.
Man left with access to weapons
The investigation was conducted using statements from the man who was shot, interviews with civilian and police witnesses, video recordings from the RCMP cell block, ambulance and RCMP records, and police transmissions.
In the report, the injured civilian is referred to as Affected Person or "AP."
Records show that AP was arrested by police responding to a shoplifting report, and was found to be in possession of two knives, a canister of bear spray and "what appeared to be a restricted or prohibited firearm," later determined to be a pellet pistol.
All of these weapons were placed on a shelf under the counter of the booking area of the Prince George RCMP detachment.
MacDonald then describes video footage reviewed by the IIO, which he says "shows AP standing, unaccompanied, in front of the booking counter," with his handcuffs removed.
"He leans forward on the counter, then reaches over it and grabs the can of bear spray from the unsecure shelf behind and below the counter. He then immediately begins spraying through the open window into the area behind the counter," hitting one of the officers, "before dropping the can and falling to the floor, apparently wounded."
Further investigation, MacDonald writes, shows that the officer who was sprayed had fired his weapon.
'Reasonable and justifiable': report
"While an assault with bear spray, in itself, would not usually be considered as posing the threat of death or grievous bodily harm, the circumstances of this case were not 'the usual,'" MacDonald writes.
He says the officer who fired his weapon had impaired vision and was being attacked "by a person who had other weapons within easy reach," noting that unarmed civilians were also present and under potential threat.
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MacDonald also describes the pepper spray attack as "irrational," a view apparently shared by the injured man who told investigators, "I didn't give it any thought. It just happened."
MacDonald concludes, "the practice of police placing seized weapons on an unsecured shelf within easy reach of detainees can certainly be criticized as sloppy and risky, to say the least," but that the decision to shoot the attacker "in these circumstances, was within a reasonable and justifiable range" and that no excessive force was applied.
"I do not consider that there are reasonable grounds to believe that an officer may have committed an offence under any enactment and therefore the matter will not be referred to Crown counsel for consideration of charges."