Inquest overseer blocks release of Steven Rigby police shooting video, despite family's support

·7 min read
Carey Rigby-Wilcox and her partner Richard Wilcox show a photo of Steven Rigby. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)
Carey Rigby-Wilcox and her partner Richard Wilcox show a photo of Steven Rigby. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)

The coroner overseeing the inquest into the death of Steven Rigby has denied an application to have two videos showing his fatal encounter with police available to media for publishing.

A coroner's inquest is probing the death of Steven Rigby, who died in a police shooting on the outskirts of Saskatoon in December 2018. Three members of the Saskatoon Police Service fired on him. All three have testified that Rigby was pointing his gun at or toward police.

The inquest is not a criminal trial. Saskatchewan Crown prosecutors have already decided not to recommend criminal charges against any officers. The inquest allows a six-person jury to hear from witnesses and recommend changes to prevent a death like Rigby's from happening in the future.

On Tuesday, two dash-cam videos of the shooting and the moments before it were shown once during the inquest, which is open to the public.

One of the videos was small. Both were viewed at a distance by inquest attendees, with the jurors offered a prime viewing spot.

CBC News applied to the presiding coroner, Tim Hawryluk, on early Tuesday afternoon for copies of both videos so that they could be studied further and so that stills and portions of the video could be used on radio, TV and online.

Hawryluk, as well as the family, were told by CBC News that the portion of the videos where Rigby was shot would not be publicly broadcast or published in any form.

Carey Rigby-Wilcox
Carey Rigby-Wilcox

Family supports release

On Wednesday, lawyers representing different parties gave their arguments for and against the application.

The coroner's counsel, Robin Ritter, said he had no position.

Brian Pfefferle, the lawyer for Steven Rigby's family, said the family was not opposed to the application.

"In fact, the family would be OK if they're released in the format that they were played in court," Pfefferle said.

"The family wants to have as much information public as possible to ensure events like this don't happen again."

CBC News
CBC News

Scott Spencer, the lawyer representing the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said the SHA had no position but that the family's thoughts should be considered.

Ashley Smith and Amanda Neudorf, the lawyers for the Saskatoon Police Service and the RCMP respectively, both objected to the application.

Smith said it was her understanding that media have been allowed to review exhibits, but not receive copies, at previous inquests.

"They're still able to fully report on the proceedings without receiving copies," she said.

"Context is important," Neudorf said.

Once in the public domain, the video could be manipulated, she said.

"You can't get it back."

After reserving his decision, Hawrulyk later on Wednesday denied the application for copies and publishing, but said that, "as per usual, reasonable access to review" the videos would be provided.

"I am concerned and I am mindful of the very sensitive material contained in these videos," Hawryluk said, adding that if the videos were altered and posted online, they could be reposted "in inappropriate forms."

Submitted by Melanie West
Submitted by Melanie West

What can be seen on the video

CBC News was allowed to rewatch the RCMP dash-cam video on Thursday morning in the presence of Ritter. Rigby's sister Melanie West, who had viewed the video before and during the inquest, also rewatched it.

CBC News focused on the approximate five-minute span from Rigby's exiting his car (which was disabled and stuck in a ditch) to the moment he was shot and fell to the ground.

The same segment, including the shooting, was reshown to all inquest attendees again later in the morning while Pfefferle cross-examined one of the officers who shot Rigby.

In the video, Rigby stands unsteadily against the driver's side of the car for more than a minute, then stumbles. A dark object can be seen in his right hand. The inquest has heard it was a pistol.

Rigby gets up again with his back to officers, who were approximately 30 feet away, according to one police witness.

Someone on the Saskatoon police radio line says Rigby fired his weapon into the air.

Saskatoon police's armoured rescue vehicle (ARV) moves in front of the RCMP car, blocking the camera's view of Rigby until he is visible again during and after the shooting.

Cst. Joel Lalonde of the Saskatoon Police Service, who is wearing tactical gear including helmet and rifle, and another officer stand by the back bumper of the ARV.

There's a sound and Lalonde and the other officer back up a bit.

What sounds like a pop can be heard and Rigby comes into view.

"He's shooting in the air," someone says over the RCMP radio line.

As Rigby is fired upon by officers, his head is bowed, his hands are slightly above his head and there's a dark object in his hands.

Rigby falls to the ground. He was found with a pistol, the inquest has heard.

Rigby pointed gun toward other officer: Lalonde

Thursday is the fourth day of the week-long inquest. Lalonde was questioned extensively for the whole morning.

The 18-year police veteran and member of Saskatoon Police's tactical support unit said that Rigby fired two or three shots into the air after getting out of the car.

Rigby then pointed his gun in the direction of another officer, Lalonde said. Lalonde stretched out his right arm to illustrate.

"I believed he was about to shoot at the police standing where I was," he said. "So I shot twice."

Const. Madeleine White of the Warman, Sask., RCMP detachment was at the scene that night and testified after Lalonde.

White said that as Rigby approached officers, "His arm was up in the sky and then it was lowered down toward the direction of the police."

Under cross-examination by Ashley Smith, the lawyer for the Saskatoon Police Service, White said Rigby's gun was pointed at police at the time police fired on him.

Officers couldn't immediately go to the wounded Rigby's side because he still had his finger on the trigger, Lalonde said.

"I really, really wanted to get down into the ditch to help him."

The armoured vehicle approached Rigby, then he was disarmed and taken to hospital, where he was declared dead. He had been wounded three times, including in the abdomen.

CBC News
CBC News

Pfefferle questioned Lalonde about other tactics that might have been used that night, such as sending a dog after Rigby.

Lalonde said officers were trying to de-escalate the situation. They turned a spotlight off Rigby's vehicle and tried to limit their commands to him, as another officer and friend to Rigby, Const. Jordan Lapointe, was attempting to calm Rigby down over the phone. Lalonde said he could hear crisis negotiators over Rigby's Bluetooth car speaker.

Pfefferle suggested a police dog might have distracted and disarmed Rigby and allowed officers to move in.

"You're painting a great picture and I wish I could tell you it worked that way," Lalonde said.

"I feel awful for this situation because Mr. Rigby wasn't a bad person and I don't think he would have ever wanted to be in the ditch with us if he was [of] sound mind."

'That was tough,' Lalonde says of rewatching shooting

Under cross-examination, Pfefferle asked Lalonde if he recalled seeing Rigby with his hands above his head at the time Rigby was shot.

Lalonde said he did not.

Pfefferle then played the RCMP dashcam video for Lalonde, pausing it at the moment Rigby had the gun and his hands above his head. Lalonde said this was his first time seeing the video.

"That's inconvenient," Lalonde said when the ARV moved into the frame and blocked much of the RCMP car's view of the unfolding scene.

Smith, the lawyer for the Saskatoon Police Service, objected to the freeze-framing, saying it would be misleading and not reflect the fast-moving situation. Presiding coroner Tim Hawryluk allowed it.

Lalonde pointed out that he could see around the ARV and had a different, unobstructed view of Rigby than what the video shows.

"That was tough," he said after the video was reshown a second time.

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