'I was trying to stop him': RCMP officer apologizes for shooting Felix Taqqaugaq

'I knew by the look in his eyes, and the look on his face, and the knife above his head, that he was trying to kill me,' said Const. Jason Trites, testifying about the night he shot an Igloolik man in his own home.

Const. Jason Trites testified by video Tuesday at a coroner's inquest into shooting death by police

Felix Taqqaugaq, 30, was shot by police in his home in Igloolik in March of 2012. At the inquest into his death Tuesday, the officer who shot him testified that he feared for his life. (submitted by Mary Ijjangiaq)

The RCMP officer who shot Felix Taqqaugaq in his Igloolik home in 2012 apologized to Taqqaugaq's family Tuesday.

Const. Jason Trites testified by video from Halifax at the inquest into Taqqaugaq's shooting death by police four years ago. In responding to a question from Taqqaugaq's father, asked by the family's lawyer, Trites said he hopes the family gets closure from the process.  

"I just hope that they realize that nobody joins the RCMP in the hopes of ever shooting somebody," Trites said. "I've talked to many members who have gone their entire careers without pulling their pistol, and I envy them because I live with this every day."

Trites said he's done his best to keep the incident from affecting him professionally, but he replays the shooting in his mind in his downtime when he's not on the job.

"I just hope the family knows that they're not the only ones that were hurt by this," Trites said. "The things that I deal with, do affect my personal life. I'm definitely not the same person as I used to be before this incident."

Prior encounters with police

Trites testified he knew who Taqqaugaq was even before the day of the shooting, as he had prior encounters with him, and knew he had schizophrenia.

He said the first was in summer of 2011 when Trites got a call from a mental health nurse, saying Taqqaugaq was in mental distress and was hearing voices commanding him to harm his children.

"I went to the house and we talked to Felix. He was calm, he was polite, he was respectful at that time," Trites said.

"And I told him that [a mental health nurse] needed to speak with him and that he'd have to come with us for a bit. And he was fine. It was incident-free."

Trites's next encounter didn't come until the day before the shooting, after Taqqaugaq came into the RCMP detachment to complain that his brother had sold Taqqaugaq's snowmobile but didn't give him the money.

Trites told him he was busy at the time, but said he'd follow up later in the week. Trites said Taqqaugaq didn't mention anything about the RCMP owing Taqqaugaq $300,000 — which was the delusion that sparked to the series of events leading to his death.

Officer feared for his life

Trites gave the coroner's jury a detailed account of what he remembered from that day.

On top of what the jury has already heard, Trites said he and the other officer on scene, Sgt. Peter Marshall, went to Taqqaugaq's house after they couldn't get in touch with him by phone, which they would have preferred over a face-to-face encounter.

Trites said as they approached they house, they didn't know whether Taqqaugaq had a gun in the home or not. They also worried for Taqqaugaq's family's safety, as Taqqaugaq had a prior assault conviction in a domestic dispute.

Trites had also previously arrested Taqqaugaq under the mental health act for threatening his family.

As Trites positioned himself to one corner of the tri-plex building, someone walked by the home and Taqqaugaq opened the living room window.

"I called out [Taqqaugaq's] name, and he looked right at me, and I said 'come outside and don't have anything in your hands,'" Trites said.

"At that point, my risk assessment is incredibly high. This individual has threatened to shoot me, and he now knows exactly where I am, and I can't see him. So if he has a firearm and he wants to obtain it, now's the time."

'He was trying to stab me'

Trites approached the front steps, gun drawn, and said Taqqaugaq came out from the house with nothing in his hands but a cigarette. Trites then holstered his gun.

"I tried to talk to him briefly, but he immediately started yelling about money," Trites said. "I told him I'd gladly discuss the money with him, however he was under arrest for uttering threats and he needed to put his hands behind his back."

Trites then drew his Taser, made the command once more, but as Taqqaugaq moved back towards the door, Trites fired. The Taser failed, and Taqqaugaq ran inside with Marshall chasing him.

Once Trites got inside, Trites said he heard Marshall yell "go," as Marshall started running outside as Taqqaugaq charged with a knife raised over his head. Trites said Taqqaugaq sliced at Marshall, and missed cutting him by less than a foot.

'I was trying to stop him'

"He had a wild look in his eyes," Trites said. "He was running at me with the knife above his head from less than 10 feet away. I started to back up and I tripped. There was no doubt in my mind at that point that he was trying to stab me."

Trites said as he was falling backwards, he drew his gun, and threw his left arm up to defend himself. He shot once, and grazed his own hand. From his back, Trites shot three more times, hitting Taqqaugaq.

"I was trying to stop him. I knew by the look in his eyes, and the look on his face, and the knife above his head, that he was trying to kill me," Trites said. "My sole goal was to stop that from happening."

The officers handcuffed Taqqaugaq, who was still conscious, unaware of where the knife had landed. They rushed Taqqaugaq to the health centre, where he later died.

Both officers were flown out of the community the next morning.

About the Author

Nick Murray

Nick Murray is a CBC reporter, based in Iqaluit since 2015. He got his start with CBC in Fredericton after graduating from St. Thomas University's journalism program. He's also worked two Olympic Games as a senior writer with CBC Sports. You can follow Nick on Twitter at @NickMurray91.