Former Mountie testifies neighbour never reported N.S. mass shooter's domestic violence

·10 min read
Retired RCMP constable Troy Maxwell testifies via video at the Mass Casualty Commission in Halifax on Tuesday. The inquiry is examining events around  the mass murder of 22 people in rural Nova Scotia in April 2020. (CBC - image credit)
Retired RCMP constable Troy Maxwell testifies via video at the Mass Casualty Commission in Halifax on Tuesday. The inquiry is examining events around the mass murder of 22 people in rural Nova Scotia in April 2020. (CBC - image credit)

A former RCMP officer who responded to a complaint about the Nova Scotia mass shooter says the neighbour who called did not mention domestic violence, and he saw a decommissioned car the gunman was reportedly driving around unsafely.

Troy Maxwell testified Tuesday via video at the public inquiry led by the Mass Casualty Commission into the shooting deaths of 22 people on April 18 and 19, 2020.

Maxwell, now retired after 21 years with the Mounties, has previously confirmed he was the responding officer from Bible Hill detachment assigned to handle the call from neighbour Brenda Forbes on July 6, 2013.

"If I'm being completely honest, the lack of notes shows me that this was a first-instance file. Because any time you have anything that you're going to be investigating, there would be way more information than that," Maxwell told the commission Tuesday.

He said a first-instance file is one that is concluded without the need for further investigation, and is handled very differently from a report of domestic violence.

Forbes has repeatedly told media outlets, RCMP, the commission in interviews and in-person testimony last week, that she told the Mounties about how the gunman, Gabriel Wortman, had choked his partner Lisa Banfield near their Portapique cottage.

She and her husband lived in Portapique at the time. Forbes said she'd heard about the assault from the gunman's uncle, Glynn Wortman, who saw it for himself. Forbes also said Glynn told her another neighbour, Richard Ellison, was also there.

During her talk with the officers at her workplace in Debert, Forbes said she told them the gunman also had illegal firearms and never had a gun licence. She also said she called Glynn and put him on speaker phone in front of the RCMP, but he refused to cooperate because he was worried the gunman would kill him.

"The RCMP heard all of that," Forbes told police soon after the mass shooting.

The officers then told Forbes there wasn't much they could do without Banfield "because we don't have her side of the story. And … with the weapons and stuff … we have no proof," Forbes said.

She added that the RCMP "never" followed up, and nothing ever came of the complaint.

CBC
CBC

But on Tuesday, Maxwell said he did not hear Forbes put Glynn on speaker phone, she never mentioned anything about an assault on Banfield and recalled the order of their meetings differently.

He said the complaint came through their Operational Communications Centre (OCC), containing details about someone "being belligerent" as they drove around Portapique.

Maxwell said he then called Forbes to get more information on her complaint which is when he would have taken down some notes.

One page of Maxwell's handwritten notes relates to Forbes' complaint, which include the names of Brenda Forbes, Glynn Wortman, and Richard Ellison, as well as the gunman's name and address. The word "Lisa" is in brackets on one side of the page.

Maxwell said Tuesday he doesn't know who Ellison and Glynn Wortman are, or why he wrote their names down. When asked about Lisa, he said "I don't know why it's there."

Mass Casualty Commission
Mass Casualty Commission

Joshua Bryson, a lawyer for the family of victims Joy and Peter Bond, asked Maxwell why he never followed up with the people named in his notes.

Maxwell said they had "nothing to do with my file, to my knowledge."

"These people have nothing to do with your file or the complaint from Brenda Forbes, even though she provided you with the names?" Bryson said.

"I wrote down the information that Ms. Forbes gave me. When I go out and conduct my file, I'm going out looking for an individual who's driving around in the neighbourhood in an unsafe manner," Maxwell said.

"I don't know if Glynn Wortman was in the car with him, I don't know if Richard Ellison was in the car with him, I don't know. I don't have that information because I don't have my file. I can only give you what I remember."

Portapique visit happened same day

For his next step, Maxwell said he recalls visiting the gunman's Portapique cottage around dusk the same day the complaint came in with another officer. They knocked on the door, but no one responded so they left.

During this visit, Maxwell said he remembers speaking to some of Wortman's neighbours which would have fit with police "best practice." He couldn't remember who he met, but said one of them may have been in the military and had a "slim" build.

Maxwell said he and his colleague were looking for Wortman or "anybody else that has witnessed this event," and would have taken statements if they found them. But Maxwell said there was no one in the street and "nobody come to us to say we witnessed this or whatever, and we're off to another call."

When Bryson asked if the names in his notebook would have been witnesses, Maxwell said "not necessarily."

"My job is to deal with the file that's in front of me and then my job is then to go on to the next file, because this isn't the only call that I took that day. So we don't have the ability to sit around and say, 'Oh yeah, we're gonna spend an hour on this,'" Maxwell said.

Decommissioned car parked in Portapique: retired officer

He repeated Tuesday that if a domestic assault had been mentioned, there would have been more planning in how they approached that "high-risk" visit.

Maxwell told the commission earlier this year that he remembers Forbes's complaint being about the gunman driving too fast around the neighbourhood "in an old, decommissioned police car."

Banfield has said the gunman did not own a decommissioned police car in 2013. He did buy four decommissioned Ford Taurus vehicles years later in 2019, and turned one into a fully marked replica RCMP cruiser that he used in the rampage.

When commission counsel Emily Hill asked Tuesday whether that information changed his mind, Maxwell said no — since he'd seen an older Crown Victoria, a model also use by police forces, on the gunman's property.

"In my mind there was definitely a Crown Vic backed in at that yard. There was another vehicle behind it, and there was a vehicle off to the side … that was damaged," Maxwell said.

Mass Casualty Commission
Mass Casualty Commission

At some point within the next five days, Maxwell said he called the gunman to inform him of the vehicle complaint. He does not remember whether he spoke to him directly, but does recall leaving a message on his answering machine, Maxwell said Tuesday.

Maxwell also said he didn't remember how he got the gunman's phone number, but recalled it being related to an address in Dartmouth or Halifax.

Finally, Maxwell said Tuesday, he remembers visiting Forbes at her Debert workplace to tell her about the steps he'd taken, and how the file was being closed. He said he didn't remember how Forbes reacted.

Banfield told the commission last week that she never knew Forbes made a report to police in 2013, but confirmed what Forbes described did happen.

After Forbes started speaking out about her complaint in the wake of the mass shooting, and how she'd tried to warn neighbours about the gunman, the Nova Scotia RCMP looked into their files.

That's when Maxwell turned in his one page of notes. Although the RCMP regularly purge old files, they were able to recover some details about Forbes's July 2013 complaint.

It was dispatched as "causing of disturbance" and later concluded as "assist to general public," RCMP documents show.

The term assist to general public would apply to "very minor things," Maxwell told the commission earlier, like speeding or someone driving a bike on the wrong side of the road.

Domestic violence would have led to different investigation: Maxwell

If Forbes' had told him anything about domestic violence, even second-hand, Maxwell has said he would have made note of it and it would have been flagged to superior officers. He previously said they would have taken separate statements from the gunman and Banfield.

"My mother was abused as a child, so I did not take anything like that with a grain of salt, and it definitely would have been handled in a completely different manner than the notes you see," Maxwell said in his earlier commission interview.

If no one had been home when police arrived investigating domestic violence, Maxwell said Tuesday they would have returned to Portapique or asked other officers to check other properties until they found the suspect and victim.

Maxwell was also asked about the code of conduct violation that had been considered by his superior officer Cpl. Angela McKay. Her handwritten notes from June 2020, McKay references discussions about whether Maxwell could possibly be in jeopardy of being charged with the offence of failing to investigate.

But McKay wrote that she didn't believe there was any issue of this based on her conversation with Maxwell at the time, and his account was supported by "his lack of detailed notes."

Officer not aware of Forbes's version of events until now

On Tuesday, Maxwell said this was first he had ever heard of such code of conduct discussions. He also said he had not reviewed his earlier interview with the commission, and hadn't followed Forbes' recent testimony or what she had told police and media two years ago.

"I struggle with PTSD, and for me I stay away from anything that's going to cause me any type of stress," Maxwell said.

Bryson also highlighted differences between Maxwell's testimony Tuesday, and what he had told the commission earlier or McKay had recorded.

According to McKay's notes, Maxwell told her he went to Portapique with Cpl. Kenda Sutherland, while he was adamant on Tuesday he actually went with Const. Karl MacIsaac. Neither officer has recollections or notes of the Forbes complaint.

It also wasn't until his commission interview in April that Maxwell first mentioned the detail of the decomissioned car, Bryson said.

When asked if he believed his memory has improved over time, Maxwell said "no."

The same day of Forbes' complaint, records show Maxwell conducted a check on the perpetrator using the Canadian Police Information Centre database, to see if he had any guns or concerning prior police interactions "to make sure that when we arrived we were safe."

By that time, the gunman had been reported to RCMP twice: first in 2010 after threatening to kill his parents, and then in 2011 that he wanted to "kill a cop."

On Tuesday, Hill pointed out a document that appears to show the OCC made the check into CPIC on his behalf about Wortman. Maxwell agreed that would likely have been the case since the communications centre checking into suspects and addresses was routine.

He said no dispatcher told him about the bulletin that had been sent out in 2011 warning of the gunman's threat, and agreed that would "absolutely" have been something that would change how he approached the property.

Banfield has said no police member ever interviewed her about possible domestic abuse before the mass shooting.

"Knowing that there was all these complaints … why didn't anybody even try to approach me? I've never had a police officer even ask me anything as far as my well-being or has he ever done anything to me," Banfield said in a commission interview.

The commission has said RCMP Const. Greg Wiley, who did visit the gunman's cottage to ask about firearms after the 2010 complaint, will testify at a later date yet to be announced.

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