Two officers who fired shots that wounded and then killed Peter Rintoul at an East Vancouver Canadian Tire six years ago have testified that they believed he was an immediate threat to their lives.
Constables Gary Li and Josh Wong were among four Vancouver police officers who gave their evidence Wednesday at the coroners' inquest into the shooting of 38-year-old Rintoul, who was killed Nov. 10, 2016 in the parking lot of the store at Grandview Highway and Bentall Street.
The coroners' jury heard earlier in the day that in the minutes before Rintoul died, he had attempted to rob the store's gun section, slashed a store employee with a knife, taken an elderly customer hostage and then stabbed a police officer.
Li, who fired at Rintoul four times, testified that he had no choice but to shoot.
"I believed that he was going to attack me or kill me or attack others behind me. … There was no other option," the officer said.
Li and his partner were the first officers on the scene, and he described a chaotic struggle with Rintoul in the store's parking lot.
He told the jury that Rintoul used bear spray on him and Const. Justin Fraser immediately after they arrived. In response, Li deployed his Taser, bringing Rintoul to the ground, where the two officers tried to wrestle him into control.
But Rintoul managed to free his arms, and stabbed Fraser in the face and stomach, the inquest heard.
Li testified that when he saw his partner was injured, he drew away from the struggle on the ground and pulled out his gun, telling Rintoul to drop the knife.
When the suspect refused to comply, Li began shooting.
"In the moment before I discharged my firearm, my vision was beginning to be affected by the bear spray, and if I had lost my vision the results would have been catastrophic," Li said.
Shooting happened 'in a split second'
Asked by a juror how he could have been confident of the accuracy of his shot if his vision was compromised, Li said he could still see clearly but knew that would soon change.
He also testified there was no one else in the line of fire.
"This happened in a split second. This was a decision that I made in the moment, based on my training, my experience and my assessment at the time," Li said.
He teared up on the stand as he recalled tending to his injured partner after backup arrived, telling Fraser everything was going to be OK.
The shots that ultimately killed Rintoul came from the gun of Const. Josh Wong, one of four officers who formed a line to protect Li and Fraser from the suspect, according to the officers' testimony.
Wong said Rintoul was bloody and lying on the ground when he arrived on the scene, and was shouting expletives at the officers, demanding they shoot or kill him. The suspect was still gripping a knife in one hand and a can of bear spray in the other.
On the ground between police and Rintoul was Fraser's loaded rifle.
Wong testified that Rintoul refused commands to drop the knife, then bear sprayed the officers.
"The suspect attempted to stand up and I shot him," Wong said. "I thought he was going to kill me or somebody else."
Two officers who were standing next to Wong that day, his partner Const. Beau Spencer and their acting sergeant Const. Derek Cain, testified about their own decisions not to fire their weapons.
Spencer said he hadn't noticed the rifle lying on the ground, and so the situation "did not meet my threshold for discharging my firearm." He explained that if he had seen the rifle, he would have fired.
Cain told the jury he had "consciously made that decision to shoot" until the moment the bear spray hit his eyes and he could no longer see clearly.
Cain testified that he still has nightmares about that day.
"I blame myself for not getting there faster," he said. "I should have been the one stabbed. I was diagnosed with PTSD after this incident and was off work for a number of months."
The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. investigated the shooting and cleared the officers of criminal wrongdoing, agreeing that Rintoul "posed a threat of deadly force" to police and members of the public.
During the coroners' inquest, which began on Monday, presiding coroner Susan Barth and the jury will hear from witnesses to determine the facts of the case.
The jury can make recommendations aimed at preventing future deaths but will not make any conclusions about legal responsibility related to Rintoul's death. The inquest is scheduled to continue on Thursday.