Police watchdog finds Calgary officer justified in fatal shooting of apparent armed robber

Alberta's police watchdog has ruled that a Calgary police officer was justified in fatally shooting a man who he says attempted to rob him at knifepoint in 2018. 

Plainclothes officer says shooting victim opened his car door, attempting to rob him at knifepoint

Police tape off the scene where a plainclothes officer shot a man who allegedly attempted to rob him at knifepoint in April 2018. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

Alberta's police watchdog has ruled that a Calgary police officer was justified in fatally shooting a man who he says attempted to rob him at knifepoint in 2018. 

Alberta's Serious Incident Response Team was directed to investigate the fatal shooting, which happened in Bridgeland on April 9, 2018.

At about 11 p.m. that night, according to an ASIRT news release, a plainclothes officer who was conducting surveillance near Second Avenue and Sixth Street N.E. on an unrelated investigation took a break to sit in his unmarked vehicle and check his phone. 

A man opened his unlocked car door and shouted at him while brandishing a knife, demanding he hand over his money, the officer said.

The officer said the man, who was 27, held the car door open and held the five-inch blade about three feet from the officer's head.

According to ASIRT, the officer said he then pretended to reach for his wallet and instead drew his gun, pushing the man back while yelling at him, and then striking him in the face with the gun. 

"As the man stood up after being pushed, he swung the knife in the officer's direction, causing the officer, who was holding his service pistol close to his torso, to discharge a single round. The single round struck the man in the upper chest, causing him to immediately fall to the ground and drop the knife," reads the ASIRT release issued Wednesday. 

No witnesses

There were no witnesses to the alleged attempted robbery and shooting.

The first officer to arrive after the plainclothes officer radioed for backup said he saw the officer standing near the open side of his car, with the shooting victim lying on his back about 10 feet away with a bloody chest and a knife near his left hand. He had no vital signs, and when EMS arrived, they confirmed the man was dead. 

ASIRT investigators interviewed the victim's partner and two other people from his home, who said they believed the man had left that night to try to obtain drugs at a nearby convenience store but that he had left without any money. They said it wasn't unusual for the man to steal money to pay for drugs.

Police say this knife was found near the left hand of the man who was fatally shot. ASIRT says while people who knew the man initially said he carried a folding DeWalt-brand knife, they later declined to confirm the knife in this photo looked like the knife that belonged to him. (Submitted by ASIRT)

They say the man was unemployed and struggling with his mental health. A toxicology report found the presence of meth in his system.

ASIRT investigators said the three people who knew the man initially gave a description of a knife the man carried regularly and had been playing with that night that matched the knife found at the scene. However, upon a followup visit, ASIRT said none of the three interviewed were prepared to say that they recognized a picture of the knife that was found at the scene. The man's DNA was found on the knife.

Simply because an event has been found lawful does not make the situation any less tragic.- ASIRT

ASIRT investigates police incidents that involve serious injury or misconduct, but the agency said this case differed from many in that it involved a confrontation that was unrelated to the officer's job.

"Instead, the evidence would suggest that the encounter was initiated by the man who, based on the available evidence, was likely not initially aware that the person he confronted was a police officer.… The importance of his covert surveillance on a significant, serious ongoing investigation made it unlikely that the officer would have compromised these duties by approaching or engaging the man," ASIRT's release reads. 

ASIRT said the officer's version of events was not accepted simply because he is the only surviving witness to the shooting.

Physical evidence and testimony of the shooting victim's actions before the confrontation were found to be consistent with the officer's account, ASIRT said, and the officer seemingly tried to de-escalate the situation by yelling and pushing the man back before he fired a shot. 

"While it likely goes without saying, regardless of the outcome of the investigation, lives were profoundly changed," ASIRT said. "These events have a devastating impact for all involved, in many different ways. Simply because an event has been found lawful does not make the situation any less tragic."

Officers in Calgary shot nine people in 2018, killing five — numbers higher than many other large Canadian cities and prompting some concerns over use of force. No officers have been charged for any of the shootings that year.