Man who opened fire on RCMP detachment 'intended to kill,' Crown alleges

The RCMP detachment in Vanderhoof on which the Crown alleges Paul Nicholas Russell opened fire on Nov. 25, 2021. (Google Street View - image credit)
The RCMP detachment in Vanderhoof on which the Crown alleges Paul Nicholas Russell opened fire on Nov. 25, 2021. (Google Street View - image credit)

Crown prosecutors say a man charged with opening fire with his rifle on an RCMP detachment in Vanderhoof, B.C., in 2021 "intended to kill" police officers.

The allegation was part of the prosecution's opening statement, laying out the Crown's case against Paul Nicholas Russell in B.C. Supreme Court in Prince George on Monday before Justice Francesca Marzari.

Russell is charged with attempted murder with a firearm of an RCMP member or members and eight other charges, including mischief endangering life and flight from police.

On the first day of Russell's trial, a court sheriff escorted the bearded, broad-shouldered man into a large Prince George courtroom in handcuffs.

Dressed in a red T-shirt and sweatpants, Russell looked over to acknowledge two grey-haired men sitting in the virtually empty gallery.

As the court clerk read out the nine charges against him, Russell stood in the prisoner's box, answering "not guilty" to each one.

Betsy Trumpener/CBC News
Betsy Trumpener/CBC News

Prosecutor Gregory Furmaniuk told the court that on Nov. 25, 2021, RCMP officers and civilian police employees inside the Vanderhoof detachment had been having an "unremarkable day" as their lunch hour began.

That all changed after Russell left his workplace on his lunch break and drove his white pickup to the RCMP detachment, wearing a fedora and sunglasses, he said.

Furmaniuk said Russell drove his pickup truck around the detachment, stopping to fire on the building from different sides, including the public entrance.

Bullets were fired into the detachment through two different windows close to where staff were working and into an exterior wall.

The Crown alleged Russell also fired at several parked police cruisers.

As the shots were fired, the Crown said officers inside moved civilian employees into the detachment cell block for their safety while RCMP officers grabbed carbines.

Two officers left the detachment to look for the alleged assailant. Officers summoned from the Prince George RCMP detachment later joined the chase.

Andrew Kurjata/CBC
Andrew Kurjata/CBC

At one point, Russell's truck "plowed" into an officer's cruiser stationed across the roadway, according to the Crown.

Russell was eventually arrested outside a Kal Tire store.

The Crown said RCMP found a rifle and "boxes of ammo" in his truck.

Russell was transported to Prince George and, later, to the University Hospital of Northern B.C., the Crown said.

Prosecutors provided no information about why Russell was taken to hospital.

He has been in custody since his arrest.

The Crown said it would call a number of witnesses this week, including community residents, ICBC, RCMP officers, a psychiatrist, and Russell's brother, who had been with him at work before the lunch hour.

Videos taken by bystanders, as well as security and dashcam footage, will also be entered into evidence.

Furmaniuk said a key issue would be Russell's intentions and mental state at the time. During its opening, the Crown didn't provide any information about a possible motive.

The first Crown witness at the trial was a woman who lived close to the RCMP detachment. Two portions of a video she took on Nov. 25, 2021, were played for the court.

Her voice can be heard saying, "Who is shooting at RCMP?"  Ten gunshots could be heard during portions of the video. The woman testified she saw a man in a white pickup truck in the detachment driveway with a "long gun.