Manitoba

From terror to tragedy: Witness describes events leading up to police shooting

A woman who witnessed the chaos leading up to the shooting death of a South Sudanese man by police in a West Broadway apartment says it was a terrifying situation that escalated quickly, but more could have been done to prevent it.

Machuar Madut, 43, was killed in his Colony Street apartment Saturday

Machuar Madut, 43, was recently evicted from his Colony Street apartment and lived with mental illness. Before he was fatally shot by police, witnesses say he emptied his apartment of his belongings, broke another tenant's door down and trashed their apartment with a hammer. (Submitted by Sandy Deng)

A woman who witnessed the chaos leading up to the shooting death of a South Sudanese man by police in a West Broadway apartment says it was a terrifying situation that escalated quickly, but more could have been done to prevent it. 

"First and foremost, everyone's a victim here, including the cop," said Colleen Risbey, who lives at the Colony street apartment building where the shooting took place. 

Machuar Madut, 43, was killed Saturday morning at 9:43 a.m. after a confrontation with police, according to a release from the Independent Investigation Unit. 

At around 9:30 a.m. Saturday morning, Risbey said she woke up to loud, "intrusive" rapping or banging in the hallway outside of her third-floor apartment. The sound was escalating, she said, and when she opened her door, she saw Machuar Madut banging on the door of the suite at the end of her hallway with a hammer.

"He definitely was a quieter person and was harmless for all of the other times I've ever seen him," she said. "When I saw it was him, and he was wielding a hammer at a door, and I was like, 'Why is he even doing that?" I went into the hallway to get his attention." 

Risbey approached him, at first asking, then yelling at him, to calm down and put the hammer down.

'Fearful screaming'

"There was no coherence whatsoever. He was 100 per cent focused on the action that his body was doing, which was breaking down a door with a hammer. It wasn't his door, and the people inside were very terrified. There was just a lot of fearful screaming on the other side."

She said she ran back to her apartment and grabbed a pot with the intention to throw it at him. By the time she got back into the hallway, Madut had smashed his way through the door and the tenants inside the suite had escaped. 

"He was in their apartment smashing things and they were running down the hallway and then he came out in the hallway. And I guess since I was the next closest thing to him he came towards me," she said.

Witnesses say Machuar Madut used a hammer to break into tenant's suite on the third floor, then caused more damage once inside. (CBC/Erin Brohman)

She darted into her apartment and he started banging on her door, she said, but she yelled threats back at him. 

"Everything just stopped and it went quiet quite quickly, in which by that time, I was very freaked out," she said. "My neighbour did peek his head out and I told him to call 911 right away. My first response after everything quieted down was, I can't be in my apartment alone right now. I am super terrified." 

She ran across the hall to her neighbour's suite to stay with him until police arrived, and she said she heard them canvassing her neighbours. She opened the door and saw blood down the wall beside her door.

"And that's when I immediately knew that the man was in danger. Because he was injured." she said. "I was right away very, very concerned for the man's safety."

She said she went around to other tenants on her floor and then down to the caretaker of the building on the first floor, asking if anyone knew where the man lived, but no one seemed to know who he was.

"And that's when I heard what sounded just like the cops had intervened and he hit the floor. Because he was a very large man and it was a very large collapsing sound," she said.

She said she has no comment on the officers' decision to open fire, because she did not see it. He died in his second floor apartment, according to family.

"I feel … that it's just very sad," she said. 

Eviction

Machuar Madut, who had lived in the building for about two years, had recently been evicted, according to his cousin Ayei Madut. He was to be out of the apartment by the end of the month.

On Friday, he'd taken all of his furniture and belongings out to the dumpster behind the building, even moving the fridge and oven, which belonged to the property. Several tenants told the CBC said they saw him bringing items down the stairs, but did not question him, as they didn't know him and he did not speak much English.

Ayei Madut, who also lived in the building and was Machuar's co-signer for the suite and advocate who brought him to appointments, had just gone to a hearing with the Residential Tenancies Branch on Feb. 20 over his cousin's eviction. 

According to the RTB decision, Madut was being evicted because of unpaid rent, something his cousin disputes. Ayei said Machuar's rent was covered by employment and income assistance, and he said Machuar's case worker told him the landlord told him to stop making the payments.

Ayei said Machuar had damaged his own suite in the past, so he offered to cover the damage, but his cousin still faced eviction. He did not know Machuar's diagnosis but said his cousin was on medication for his mental illness. He did not have a mental health worker who made home visits.

Madut was shot inside his second-floor apartment, according to his cousin. He'd also damaged his own door prior to getting evicted. (CBC/Erin Brohman)

In a last-ditch effort to delay the eviction, Ayei planned to take Machuar to Winnipeg's Crisis Response Centre on Sunday to either get him admitted to hospital, or a medical note that would extend his time at the apartment until he had found a new place to live.

Another South Sudanese community member phoned Ayei Madut Saturday morning to tell him Machuar had removed all of his furniture. Ayei arrived to check on him at 10 a.m.,17 minutes after the shooting.

Worldwide Management, the property managers for the apartment, declined the CBC's request for comment. 

'You contain the scene'

Winnipeg police officers are trained in mental health and de-escalation, but according to a mental health expert involved in police training, safety comes first.

"There's sort of a zero tolerance if an individual is moving towards the police with something that could harm another person, or them," said Chris Summerville, CEO of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada.

"It's just very strict protocol. You contain the scene and if the person has something that could be dangerous to anyone around, that is to be dropped immediately. They do not move into, 'Let's talk about this,'" he said.

Summerville is involved in mental health and de-escalation "pro training" rolling out on police forces across Canada, including Winnipeg. Officers role-play situations like the one that played out on Saturday, moving from use-of-force scenarios to mental health awareness response, with feedback from mental health workers.

"Sometimes there just isn't enough time to move to a mental health awareness strategy," said Summerville. While questions remain around the circumstances, time and police decisions before opening fire, he said it's also important to look at the weeks and days leading up to it, including Machuar's eviction. He said all people in positions of authority, including landlords, should get mental health training. 

"People don't just develop into a crisis situation in 30 minutes. In these cases, there's a buildup of tension, a buildup of stress. It's not so much looking for blame, but quite frankly, a lot of times people around the individual don't know how to de-escalate," he said.

'It's just very sad'

Many of the tenants at the apartment building told the CBC they're still upset and in shock over what happened. 

"It's just very sad. It's nothing that is a wave of crime or anything. But there is some serious need for more compassion for everyone," said Risbey.

She said she believes people should've gotten to know Machuar Madut, so that maybe he could've been helped before it ended in tragedy.

"When that man came towards me, I threatened to kick the s--- out of him if he dared. In the end we're trying to protect ourselves, and when you're a police officer trying to do that on a judgment call that's life or death in three seconds? You know what, you don't know what you would do," she said. 

"There's a lot more prevention we can do than dealing with things when they're too late."