ASIRT clears officer in fatal shooting of 27-year-old Calgary woman

The Calgary police officer who shot and killed a 27-year-old woman in Sunalta in 2016 will not face charges after being cleared of wrongdoing by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team.

Police faced 'untenable situation' when frantic woman wielding two knives approached, says agency

Roads in the area of 11th Avenue and 17th Street S.W. were closed as a result of the shooting. (Colleen Underwood/CBC)

The Calgary police officer who shot and killed a 27-year-old woman in Sunalta in 2016 will not face charges after being cleared of wrongdoing by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team.

ASIRT announced the findings of its investigation on Wednesday. Although the civilian oversight agency did not release the name of the victim of the fatal shooting, her family previously identified her as Jessica Patterson.

Three weeks after Patterson was killed, her husband, Joseph Larson, was found dead of an apparent overdose. His sister said he wasn't able to cope with his wife's death.

Only 17 seconds elapsed between the time Calgary police arrived to find Patterson acting frantically and wielding two knives to the moment she was shot, according to ASIRT Director Susan Hughson.

Patterson had methadone and cocaine in her system. 

"It is clear the woman was in some form of crisis, and it is impossible to know what might have been going on in her mind," said Hughson.

Patterson's family met with ASIRT on Wednesday and it was the first time they learned many of the details of her death.

Hughson said they are still struggling.

"It's difficult for a mother to deal with the loss of her daughter in these circumstances," said Hughson. "They're still devastated."

Jessica Patterson, left, was shot and killed by Calgary police in November 2016. Her husband, Joseph Larson, was found dead in an apparent overdose three weeks later. (Patterson and Larson families)

Hughson provided a detailed account of those 17 seconds, which began after witnesses called police to report Patterson was acting erratically; yelling, grunting and running from the street to the sidewalk with two large knives.

Patterson was described as incoherent and frantic.

When a Calgary Police Service van arrived with two responding officers, Patterson ran into an apartment building. Police could hear her at the door screaming and panting right before she began stabbing at the apartment building door.

When officers demanded the woman drop the knife, she yelled "help" but moved toward one of the officers who had gotten out of the truck. 

Then — with one officer outside the truck and one in the driver's seat — she ran toward the police truck and tried to get in the passenger side. 

A woman who was fatally shot by police in Calgary was armed with these two knives, according to ASIRT. (ASIRT)

Concerned for her partner's safety, the officer standing outside the truck shot the woman twice.

Though both officers performed first aid on Patterson while waiting for paramedics to arrive, she died of her injuries.

Hughson said the officers were in an "untenable situation."

"The death of [Patterson] was not the outcome anyone, including the involved officers, wanted or expected when police responded to the call," Hughson said.

CPS statement

Calgary police issued a statement Wednesday saying officers must make split-second decisions each day they are on duty, and the goal is always to preserve life.

"Thousands of times a year, officers respond to calls [involving] those with addictions or mental health issues. The overwhelming majority of these calls end with de-escalation of the situation and further engagement of the appropriate partner agencies to assist in getting help to our community's most vulnerable," the statement read.

"The grief being endured by the family is not lost on the members of the Calgary Police Service. In our duty to protect public safety, we always strive for a resolution that preserves life."

10th shooting that year

The shooting was the 10th officer-involved shooting for CPS that year. Every incident is investigated by ASIRT.

The investigative body is "stretched to the limits" and dealing with a "disproportionate increase in workload," said Hughson in explaining why this investigation took 21 months to complete.

"We seem to close one file, in the same day we'll get another investigation."

Hughson said that kind of timeline is "not acceptable" for those involved — both the victim's family and the officers under investigation. She hopes the November addition of a new legal counsel to the ASIRT team will help address the backlog.

About the Author

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary reporter

Meghan Grant is the courts and crime reporter for CBC Calgary.

With files from Carly Stagg