Mounties testifying at trial disagree on whether man shot by police was witness or suspect

Const. Jessica Brown and Cpl. Randy Stenger, right, leave court in Edmonton on Monday  Brown and Stenger of the Whitecourt RCMP are charged with manslaughter in the 2018 death of Clayton Crawford. (Amber Bracken/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Const. Jessica Brown and Cpl. Randy Stenger, right, leave court in Edmonton on Monday Brown and Stenger of the Whitecourt RCMP are charged with manslaughter in the 2018 death of Clayton Crawford. (Amber Bracken/The Canadian Press - image credit)

An Edmonton jury has heard an Alberta man was shot and killed inside his vehicle by two police officers, just moments after RCMP woke him up at a rest stop.

Const. Jessica Brown and Cpl. Randy Stenger are both charged with manslaughter in the July 3, 2018 death of Clayton Crawford.

The charges were laid following a two-year investigation by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT).

On Thursday, the jury repeatedly watched a three-minute video compilation of what transpired at a rest stop just outside Whitecourt, Alta. Three RCMP vehicles simultaneously recorded the incident on dash-cams.

At the time, RCMP were on the lookout for a distinctive 26-year-old purple Dodge Dakota after a shooting a day earlier in the tiny hamlet of Valhalla Centre.

The jury has heard that on July 2, Crawford's girlfriend was shot in the leg when a bullet came through the door of a house. Witnesses told RCMP that Crawford fled the scene in the purple truck.

"I wanted to seek him out and get his side of the story," Grande Prairie RCMP Cpl. Eldon Chillog testified Wednesday.

On July 3, an off-duty Mountie spotted a truck that matched the description at a rest stop and called it in.

As Const. Brown headed to the rest stop, she got a phone call from Chillog.

"What I said was there was a shooting that occurred and that the purple Dodge truck she was looking for was involved in that shooting. That it was quite likely being driven by the boyfriend of the female victim," Chillog said.

He insisted that he was positive he told Brown that Crawford was not a suspect in the shooting.

'Lethal force ready'

The officers who responded to the rest stop on July 3 had a much different impression.

Whitecourt Const. Ian Paddick was one of the responding officers.

"We believed he was a suspect in a shooting the night before and he was armed," Paddick told the jury on Thursday. "It was going to be a high-risk takedown. So we were going to have lethal force ready in case we needed it."

Court Exhibit/RCMP
Court Exhibit/RCMP

Paddick thought the plan was to take the driver into custody and charge him with aggravated assault.

Paddick admitted the three officers had very little discussion before they approached the purple truck at the rest stop.

He said no other options other than a high-risk takedown were discussed, and no plan was implemented such as a spike belt to stop the vehicle in case it suddenly took off.

The three officers approached the truck wearing hard body armour with their weapons drawn.

"We believed the occupant of the truck was involved in the shooting, so I grabbed the carbine for my safety," Paddick testified.

Paddick and Brown had carbine rifles, while Stenger drew his service pistol.

Once the officers got close, they could see a man sound asleep in the slightly reclined driver's seat.

Paddick said he gave his carbine to Stenger and pulled his taser, then knocked on the window since the driver's door was locked.

The knock woke up the driver, who he said looked surprised. Paddick said he told Crawford it was police and he was under arrest.

"He basically put his hands up and looked at me, then dove under the steering column," Paddick testified. "I pulled my baton out and with one strike hit the driver's window."

Paddick said he reached through the window and unsuccessfully tried to push the driver back in his seat.

"He was still reaching underneath the steering column," Paddick testified. "I couldn't see exactly what he was reaching for."

Suddenly the truck turned on, went forward for a split second, then began to drive in reverse toward the officers. Paddick said he began to back away from the vehicle to avoid getting hit.

Then Brown and Stenger opened fire.

Court Exhibit/RCMP
Court Exhibit/RCMP

Eleven shots were fired. Ten hit Crawford.

The purple truck zoomed out of the rest stop, crossed the highway and came to rest at a tree line.

Paddick said they were ordered not to approach the vehicle as they waited for a police dog, a helicopter and an emergency response team to arrive.

Crawford's body was later found slumped inside the truck.

There was a machete underneath the driver's seat and a kitchen knife inside the vehicle.

Court Exhibit/RCMP
Court Exhibit/RCMP

Later that night, the corporal in Grande Prairie was upset when he saw a Whitecourt detachment briefing note about the shooting death, referring to the victim as a homicide suspect.

"I just couldn't understand what was happening at that time," Chillog testified.

"How possibly what I said could come out to be a homicide in any way? So I was of course upset that it was coming out like that."

Chillog said he immediately went to his inspector's office about the note, asking him to tell the author "that's not what happened."

He said the inspector made the phone call.

Paddick will be cross-examined on Friday.

The trial is scheduled to last three weeks.

Court Exhibit/RCMP
Court Exhibit/RCMP