Inquest offers no recommendations in fatal 2007 police shooting of Canadian Forces vet

An inquest into the death of Roy Thomas Bell, 44, a former member of the Canadian Forces killed in a December 2007 confrontation with Winnipeg police, concludes officers did everything right, were properly trained and had the appropriate equipment.

Officers did everything right, but procedures of the day caused long delays to probe

Roy Thomas Bell served in the Canadian Forces for more than 23 years before he was shot and killed in an altercation with Winnipeg police in 2007. (Supplied)

An inquest into the death of a former member of the Canadian Forces killed in a December 2007 confrontation with Winnipeg police offers no recommendations for change.

The report, released on Wednesday, concludes officers did everything right, were properly trained and had the appropriate equipment.

Roy Thomas Bell, 44, died from multiple gunshot wounds during the showdown with police.

Officers were called just before 11 p.m. on Dec. 17, 2007, about a man threatening residents at an apartment block on Langside Street near Cornish Avenue. When officers arrived, police said, Bell was in possession of a gun and another weapon, possibly a bat.

The inquest into Bell's began in early 2017. (CBC)

Officers used a stun gun on Bell but it had no effect. Police then fired their handguns, hitting Bell numerous times.

Before police shot Bell, witnesses said, they heard him telling the officers to shoot him, raising speculation he may have committed "suicide by cop."

The province's chief medical examiner called for the inquest under the Fatality Inquiries Act to explore the circumstances and events leading to the death, and to find whether anything could be done to prevent similar deaths.

Drugs may have exacerbated the otherwise emotionally charged confrontation with police.- J udge Dale  Schille

The report by Judge Dale Schille outlines the days leading up to the encounter, noting Bell was a member of the Canadian military for 23½ years until he was medically discharged in 2004 due in part to post traumatic stress disorder.

His health records, entered into evidence at the inquest, confirmed Bell suffered from a variety of mental health issues — depression, anxiety and anger management issues — for which he was seeking treatment that included medication.

The day of the fatal encounter, police went up to an apartment suite to speak with the couple who called in the complaint. They told officers they were friends with Bell and his wife, and had been socializing with them a few days earlier.

There was no verbal confrontation that evening but it later became apparent Bell had taken offence at some comments, possibly in relation to the Canadian military, the inquest report states.

Bell started sending text messages to the complainant, initially indicating he was upset. In subsequent emails the tone escalated to threats.

On Dec. 17, Bell sent a text message indicating he was on his way to see them.

Police arrived just before Bell and were told he held a second-degree black belt in martial arts, had access to firearms and was known to carry a pocket knife.

After talking to the couple for about 25 minutes, police heard a disturbance outside and could see Bell armed with a baseball bat and shouting for the complainant to come down.

The officers went outside and tried to get Bell to drop his weapon but he refused. Police testified at the inquiry that Bell then came at them aggressively, so they fired the stun gun.

When that didn't work, they opened fire with their handguns. 

Drugs and weapons

Toxicology results of blood samples taken during Bell's autopsy indicated the presence of a street drug as well as a prescription drug in a quantity exceeding therapeutic levels, the inquiry report states.

"These drugs may have exacerbated the otherwise emotionally charged confrontation with police," Schille wrote.

In addition to the baseball bat, police also located a handgun in close proximity to Bell after he was shot. It was later identified as an airsoft replica of a 9-millimetre firearm.

In his conclusion, Schille wrote that evidence taken at the inquest "does not support the view that modification or enhancements need to be implemented by the WPS [Winnipeg Police Service] in order to avoid similar deaths in the future."

The inquest notes the failure of the officers at the scene to call for backup after they were told Bell might be on his way to the apartment, but Schille did not put a lot of weight on that oversight.

"The standard to which any professional should be held is not that of perfection," he wrote.

"In my view, the failure to call for backup is not reflective of any systemic WPS issue that could be addressed through a recommendation issued in this report."

Unacceptable delay

Schille called the 10-year delay from when the inquest was called to when it was convened "an unacceptable intervening period of time."

However, he noted, there were a number of factors involved. The first was that the chief medical examiner for the province jumped the queue in calling for the inquest.

He should have followed protocol and waited for a final decision to be reached on whether criminal charges were going to be laid.

The second was that procedures at that time in determining criminal charges were also long and drawn out but have since undergone wholesale changes. Such exceptional delay "is unlikely to be repeated," Schille wrote.

The process of the day required the police service to conduct an internal review and prepare a report which was then considered by senior  commander.

The report was then provided to an independent outside police agency for review and preparation of yet another report. All police reports were then provided to the Manitoba Prosecution Service for consideration. The prosecution service referred the case to the prosecutions branch of another province as the final arbiter regarding potential charges.

That convoluted process has since been displaced by the establishment of the Independent Investigations Unit, which investigates all serious incidents involving police officers, including the RCMP, in Manitoba, whether occurring on or off duty.

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