'I did not want to pull the trigger': officer at Dumas inquest

A Winnipeg courtroom was full beyond capacity Friday morning to hear testimony from the police officer who fired the shot that killed Matthew Dumas in January 2005.

Police testimony continues at inquest into fatal shooting

Police tape on Winnipeg's Dufferin Avenue in the hours after Matthew Dumas was shot. ((CBC))
A Winnipeg courtroom was full beyond capacity Friday morning to hear testimony from the police officer who fired the shot that killed Matthew Dumas in January 2005.

Dumas's mother, Carol Chartrand, hid her face behind a white cloth as she listened to Const. Dennis Gburek describe the events that led to the moment when he killed her 18-year-old son.

Gburek saw Dumas struggling with Det.-Const. Jonathan Mateychuk, who believed Dumas was a suspect in a robbery earlier in the day.

He said he thought he saw Dumas carrying a large butcher knife, and that's when he drew his weapon. He yelled at Dumas to drop the knife, but Dumas kept closing in, Gburek testified.

He then saw it was a screwdriver in Dumas's hand, not a knife, he said. Gburek said he yelled repeatedly at Dumas to drop the screwdriver.

He saw an officer behind Dumas — Mateychuk — spray a big stream of pepper spray at Dumas, but said it did not appear to have any effect. Dumas was very close at this point, Gburek said. 

"His eyes are big, they're lit up. You can see the anger in him. He's showing his teeth," he said.

Gburek said he saw Dumas's grey hoodie or sweater was "right over top of me," and  yelled, "I'm going to shoot you!"

Gburek said he remembers pulling the trigger once, although Dumas was shot twice.

"I did not want to pull the trigger," Gburek said.

Other witnesses have confirmed that Dumas ignored orders to drop his screwdriver. Some have questioned whether police could have tackled Dumas or used some other non-lethal means of controlling him, but Gburek said police are trained to shoot armed persons who get within seven metres and continue with threatening advances.

Gburek said Dumas was less than two metres away when he fired two shots into the centre of his body.

He estimated about 30 seconds had elapsed from the time he started running toward Dumas and Mateychuk to to the time he fired the fatal shots.

The shooting was the first time Gburek had fired his weapon in the line of duty, after three years on the job. He said he has been stressed "to the max" in the three years since the shooting, and still wakes up with night sweats.

Not involved in robbery: letter

Dumas family lawyer Donald Worme produced a letter from then-police chief Jack Ewatski and had Gburek read the letter aloud in court.

Ewatski had written to the province's chief medical examiner to say police initially believed Dumas was part of a group of people suspected in an Elmwood robbery.

The letter said police now know Dumas was not involved in the robbery. The letter was dated November 2005, 11 months after Dumas was killed.

Gburek said up until the moment he read the letter in court, he had believed Dumas had been a suspect in the robbery.  He doesn't know anything about the case, he said, and he doesn't buy the newspaper or watch the news.

Race not a factor, officer says

Matthew Dumas, in an undated family photo. ((CBC))
The shooting prompted cries of racism from some aboriginal leaders, despite the fact Gburek is Métis. They said Dumas was just one of many young aboriginals targeted by police because of their skin colour.

Worme suggested Gburek was looking at any native males in the area as potential suspects.

Gburek responded that ethnic background would not matter. If a person's clothing matched the description police had transmitted, he said, he would spot check them.

In spite of assurances from inquest lawyer Robert Tapper that racial bias was not a factor in Dumas's death, Worme said he is seeing evidence to the contrary.

"I think it's also become abundantly clear that because of the large aboriginal population in that particular vicinity, they are all at risk, as Matthew Dumas certainly was," he said.

"Matthew Dumas was not involved in a crime of any description, but he  — simply because he was an aboriginal youth — had become a suspect and as such ended up where he did."

Dumas fought, pepper-sprayed by officer

On Thursday, the inquest heard from Mateychuk, who pursued Dumas and tried to subdue him before the shooting.

Mateychuk's voice at times cracked with emotion as he described his encounter with Dumas, which began when he, alone in a cruiser, saw Dumas and thought he matched the description of a robbery suspect.

When Mateychuk tried to stop Dumas, the young man bolted, sparking a chase.

Mateychuk said he caught up with Dumas in a backyard, but didn't handcuff him. At one point, he said, they had physically struggled "like two hockey fighters spinning around."

He tried to use pepper spray on Dumas twice, he said, but the spray blew back into his eyes.

He then saw other police officers ahead of Dumas and called out to them, "He's got something — a blade, a weapon."

Mateychuk was behind Dumas at the time and said he was out of breath. He heard a barrage of commands from police to Dumas to drop the weapon.

He was waiting for Dumas to lie down and put his hands up, he said, and was shocked when he saw Dumas walk up to Gburek.

Dumas raised his left arm, Mateychuk said, and Gburek fired two shots.

If Dumas had tried to run, rather than lifting his arm, Mateychuk said, the situation might have ended differently. Officers might have tackled him instead of shooting him, he said.

An internal review of the shooting cleared the officer involved of any wrongdoing. Two external reviews later confirmed those findings.

Would now do things differently

Mateychuk testified that he now wishes he had taken a different approach that day. He admitted following Dumas into a backyard alone "wasn't the smartest thing to do," and said he wishes he had waited for more police backup.

Worme pressed Mateychuk, suggesting the officer had the last clear chance to get control. Mateychuk agreed, saying he could have drawn his gun at the outset.

The Dumas's family lawyer then suggested Mateychuk could have used a standard police-issue baton to subdue Dumas, but Mateychuk disagreed.

"We're not trained to do that. You don't use a baton on someone who's armed with a screwdriver," Mateychuk said. "It's not a risk any of us are paid to take."

When asked what troubled him most about the shooting today, Mateychuk said it was that "I'll never know why he [Dumas] made the choices he made."

The inquest, which is required under Manitoba law, is expected to continue into early next week.

With files from the Canadian Press