RCMP deaths in Mayerthorpe unavoidable: judge

A judge concludes the murder of four RCMP officers near Mayerthorpe, Alta., in March 2005 was a 'uniquely tragic event which could not reasonably have been foreseen or prevented.'
Residents of Mayerthorpe, Alta. embrace during a candlelight service March 3, 2006 one year after RCMP Constables, left to right, Anthony Gordon, Leo Johnston, Brock Myrol and Peter Schiemann were gunned down following a raid on a marijuana grow-op. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

A judge concluded the March 2005 murder of four RCMP officers near Mayerthorpe, Alta., was a "uniquely tragic event which could not reasonably have been foreseen or prevented."

Gunman James Roszko ambushed and killed four RCMP constables — Peter Schiemann, Anthony Gordon, Leo Johnston and Brock Myrol — who had been sent to his farm in the course of an investigation.

Judge Daniel Pahl‘s conclusion follows a fatality inquiry held in January.

"With the benefit of hindsight, many may claim to see how matters might have been handled differently," he wrote in his report released Monday. "The imposition of hindsight analysis is however, unreasonable.

"I am satisfied that the RCMP acted appropriately in all circumstances as they then knew them."

The officers were on Roszko's property to guard a marijuana grow-op and an automotive chop shop discovered the day prior to the ambush. Roszko had fled his farm after bailiffs tried to repossess his truck.

While RCMP knew Roszko hated police, he had been under the radar for some years prior to the ambush, said Pahl. They could not have known he would return to his property intending to shoot at police, he said.

"While a return was always to be considered a possibility, it was not seen as a probability.

"Nonetheless, appropriate measures were taken to alert the officers involved, adequately arm them and to secure the property in order to maintain continuity of the evidence.

"I find there were no failings in the training, experience or abilities of the officers who lost their lives."

Made recommendations

Pahl made some recommendations in the report, including improving how police track people like Roszko who might pose a threat to police and to the public.

Keith Myrol is pleased with the recommendation that calls for the RCMP to designate a threat assessment co-ordinator in each detachment. (CBC)
Each detachment should designate a member to fill the role of threat assessment co-ordinator, he wrote.

"The evidence at this inquiry shows that some individual members felt the need to develop their own threat list.

"It was also apparent that there was a lack of continuity of information."

He also recommended the RCMP establish guidelines for the securing of potential crime scenes and giving members easier access to rifles.

Responding to the report, the RCMP said it will continue to evaluate its policies, procedures and training to enhance the safety of its members.

"While nothing can change the events at Mayerthorpe," said Rod Knecht, senior deputy commissioner, "I can only hope that the fatality inquiry, and all that was done before it, will provide a better understanding of what transpired, and finally bring some peace and closure to the families, RCMP employees, and Canadians."

Const. Myrol's father, Keith, said he was pleased with the findings, particularly with the recommendation of having a threat assessment co-ordinator in each detachment.

"I really like that idea so that newcomers or even long-term residents of a detachment have someone looking out for them as to who's the bad guys in their area," Myrol said.

Myrol said the inquiry offered the Canadian public the opportunity to learn what happened and he praised the witnesses who testified.

"This was not easy for a lot of people but they came to the plate and they did a fantastic job of telling the story and I think that needs to be applauded," he said.

The release of Monday's report doesn't mark the end of the case. Myrol plans to attend Dennis Cheeseman's parole hearing in May.

Cheeseman and his brother-in-law Shawn Hennessey pleaded guilty to manslaughter in January 2009 for giving Roszko a gun and a ride to his farm hours before he killed the four officers.