Quebec police officers say they felt threatened before fatally shooting Lac-Brome teen

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Riley Fairholm, 17, was suffering from depression when Quebec provincial police fatally shot him. Several officers gave their version of events on the second day of the coroner's public inquiry into his death. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC - image credit)
Riley Fairholm, 17, was suffering from depression when Quebec provincial police fatally shot him. Several officers gave their version of events on the second day of the coroner's public inquiry into his death. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC - image credit)

Warning: This story contains discussion of suicide.

A Quebec provincial police sergeant told a coroner's inquiry Tuesday that he likely would not have done anything differently the night 17-year-old Riley Fairholm was fatally shot by police in 2018.

Sgt. Wallace McGovern gave his version of events before Quebec coroner Géhane Kamel at the Sherbrooke courthouse Tuesday — the second day of the coroner's public inquiry into the death of the teenager.

On Monday, Tracy Wing, Riley's mother, was among the first witnesses to testify at the inquiry. She said that waiting four years for answers for an event "that lasted 61 seconds" was disrespectful to her son Riley, to her, to Riley's father and to the rest of their family.

Riley was killed by Sûreté du Québec police on July 25, 2018 after 1:40 a.m. in an abandoned restaurant parking lot in Lac-Brome, Que., about an hour southeast of Montreal.

McGovern was one of the first officers to spot the teenager at the scene after receiving a 911 call about an armed individual in crisis.

Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada
Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada

The sergeant testified Riley was screaming "non-stop" and waving a weapon around as he advanced erratically toward the six officers who had responded to the emergency call.

McGovern started talking to Riley through a loudspeaker. The sergeant said he repeatedly asked him to drop his weapon, which police later discovered was an air pistol. The demands went unheeded.

"He seemed to become more aggressive, he was hollering more ... and he was moving toward us at a considerable rate, more than I felt comfortable with," McGovern testified.

McGovern said he anticipated three outcomes of the situation: the young man would drop the weapon, Riley would fire on police, or police would end the threat.

The interaction between police and Riley lasted a little more than a minute, then one officer shot him in the head. McGovern said he didn't see where the shot came from.

"It wasn't very long; I said in my report it was one to two minutes and obviously it was closer to one minute," McGovern said.

He said the danger was clear and that he's not sure what he could have done differently in the situation.

"If I had followed my training 100 per cent, I probably would've been the first one to shoot him."

Possible plan for police confrontation

Around 1:20 a.m., McGovern said he received a call from a man reporting an armed individual in crisis in front of the IGA Knowlton in Lac-Brome.

McGovern said the man described the suspect as a teenager dressed in dark clothing, sporting a black baseball cap and carrying a grey or black book bag.

Unbeknownst to McGovern, he was speaking directly with Riley, who had called 911 himself.

McGovern testified that during the police intervention he heard Riley say that "he has been waiting for this for five years."  McGovern sensed this may have meant Riley had planned for a police confrontation.

Kamel questioned whether at any point McGovern believed Riley to be suicidal.

"Yes, I did," he replied. But he said in a situation where a firearm is present, the first priority is the security of residents and officers.

"I didn't have any information if it was a person that was suicidal or a person that was bent on doing harm," he said.

Riley's family has been critical of the provincial police and Quebec's independent police oversight agency, known as the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI), for a lack of transparency. The shooting was investigated by the watchdog, and the Crown decided not to lay charges.

'I have no excuse' says officer on lack of CPR

At the inquest on Monday, Wing said the officer who spoke to her of her son's death lacked compassion and empathy.

Geneviève Racine, another office who was at the scene, told the inquiry about her encounters with Riley's parents at the hospital, saying they had several tense exchanges, including one involving the teen's mother, who discovered that police had killed him and that he hadn't killed himself.

"She looked at me and, in anger, screamed that we had shot her son," said Racine, who had tended to Riley's head injury after he'd been shot, but — as Wing discovered by requesting the ambulance report of the events — had not performed CPR on him.

Submitted by Tracy Wing
Submitted by Tracy Wing

Questioned why she hadn't performed compressions on Riley, Racine told the inquiry that officers didn't have proper first aid equipment on hand and that she tried to stem the bleeding from the head wound.

Kamel said she found the lack of CPR "worrisome," adding two people should have been tending to Riley — one addressing his head wound, the other starting compressions until paramedics arrived.

Racine nodded, saying through tears, "I have no excuse."

Another officer, Lysanne Cinq-Mars, testified on Tuesday that she felt that her life was threatened as Riley waved his weapon in front of officers, saying that the use of force was the only way to control him.

Several provincial police officers, including the one who fired the fatal shot, are scheduled to testify in the coming days.

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