Officer cleared in fatal B.C. shooting sues police watchdog over 3-year investigation

An RCMP officer who was cleared of wrongdoing in a deadly 2014 shooting is suing the province's police watchdog for negligence, saying its three-year investigation was far too long and heightened his post-traumatic stress.

Cpl. Brian Burke was cleared of wrongdoing, but says IIO's lengthy investigation harmed his health

Peter de Groot was shot and killed by RCMP in 2014. The officer who shot him has filed a lawsuit against the police watchdog, saying its investigation — which ultimately cleared his name — took too long and exacerbated his post-traumatic stress. (Peter de Groot/Facebook)

An RCMP officer involved in a deadly 2014 shooting is suing B.C.'s police watchdog for negligence, saying its three-year investigation — which ultimately cleared his name — took far too long and intensified his post-traumatic stress.

Cpl. Brian Burke claims he hasn't been able to work for more than a year, even since the Independent Investigations Office of B.C.'s inquiry came out in his favour last March.

"Because of the IIO's conduct, Burke has experienced significant physical and mental effects," according to the officer's lawsuit, filed on Aug. 31.

The claim says those effects include anxiety, depression and a loss of enjoyment of life and career.

Shooting in 2014

The officer was one of several called to search for Peter de Groot in the area around Slocan, in southeastern B.C., on Oct. 13, 2014.

A later report said De Groot, 45, had run into the woods after exchanging gunfire with police officers responding to a call.

Burke found de Groot in a cabin near the village after a four-day manhunt.

The officer shot and killed de Groot "in the course of their interaction," according to the lawsuit.

The area of Slocan where Peter de Groot lived was locked down by RCMP for days after the shooting in October 2014. (CBC)

The IIO was called in the aftermath, as is the case with any deadly officer-involved shooting in the province.

The resulting probe lasted more than three years. On March 29, the IIO released its formal report saying Burke acted lawfully and didn't use unreasonable force when de Groot was killed.

'Chronic stress'

Burke claims he had a relapse of post-traumatic stress disorder after the shooting, experiencing a "marked increase" in symptoms in 2016 related to the "uncertainty" he faced waiting for the investigation to finish.

The lawsuit claims the officer left work due to "chronic stress" in April 2017 and hasn't been able to return.

Burke is seeking damages for mental injury, lost income and lost earning capacity, and special damages for psychological counselling as well as punitive damages and costs.

"The IIO did not act in good faith," the claim reads.

"It knew there was a standard for proper investigation and breached that standard."

An RCMP helicopter combed the woods around Slocan as the search continued for Peter de Groot. The 45-year-old ran into the forest after exchanging gunfire with RCMP in October 2014. (CBC)

The officer's chief civilian director, Ronald MacDonald, noted the delay in the case was "unfortunate" and left the officers and victim's family in a state of "uncertainty" when the report was published.

At the same time, RCMP deputy commissioner Brenda Butterworth-Carr said the length of the investigation "compounded the trauma and severely limited the ability of many to move forward."

"This has fundamentally changed their lives," she said.

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