Police watchdog clears Winnipeg officers after shooting death of hatchet-wielding man
Report finds 'no grounds to justify any charges against' officers involved in death of Chad Williams
Manitoba's police watchdog has cleared a group of Winnipeg officers of wrongdoing in the January shooting death of Chad Williams.
The 26-year-old man was shot by three police officers after a brief pursuit that ended in a vacant, enclosed lot on Sherbrook Avenue just before 8 p.m. on Jan. 11, the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba's report said.
The police watchdog, which investigates serious incidents involving on- or off-duty police in Manitoba, got involved to determine whether the actions of the officers who shot Williams were justified.
Two officers performed CPR on Williams before he was taken to Health Sciences Centre. Williams underwent surgery, and died from his gunshot injuries the next day, the report said.
An autopsy determined Williams had been shot six times. A number of drugs, including methamphetamine and amphetamine, were detected in his blood, the report said.
The report, which was prepared by the unit's civilian director, Zane Tessler, also included notes from interviews with seven civilians who saw parts of that night's events unfold.
One witness told investigators he was in his suite on Sherbrook Street when he heard police sirens. He said he looked outside and saw a man surrounded by officers.
"The police basically swarmed him," the witness said.
He said he saw the man put his hands up, "like he was gonna surrender," then back down again quickly, "like he was gonna make one last dash… to get away."
The witness said he saw police shoot the man, who "dropped dead." He said officers went to the man immediately after the shooting, but he couldn't hear anything outside because the windows to his suite were frozen shut.
Lethal force 'justified and unavoidable': report
Investigators also interviewed six officers who were involved in that night's incident, but who did not shoot Williams.
Those officers all told similar versions of what transpired that night: police were on the lookout for a man in connection with a domestic violence incident earlier that evening, and came across Williams, who "appeared similar to the description of the male suspect," the report said.
The officers said Williams fled when police approached him. Officers pursued him until they reached the parking lot where the encounter ended, and Williams was hit with a Taser several times before being shot, the report said.
The witness officers also told investigators that Williams had a hatchet in his hand, and one officer said the 26-year-old was "breathing hard and holding the hatchet in his left hand up in the air in a threatening manner."
The three officers who shot Williams all declined to participate in an interview with investigators — which is allowed under Manitoba's Police Services Act — but all three provided written statements detailing their involvement in the events leading up to Williams' death.
While there were slight variations in the recollections of various witnesses, like which hand Williams held the hatchet in while pursued and confronted, these are "not unusual or unexpected," the report concluded.
"It is my view that the use of lethal force by the subject officers was justified and unavoidable," IIU civilian director Tessler wrote. "In conclusion, there are no grounds to justify any charges against any or all of the subject officers."
Despite minor inconsistencies, the report found the witness recollections credible because they were mostly consistent — and particularly because surveillance footage showed Williams with a hatchet, the hatchet was found near where Williams fell after he was shot and audio recordings confirm the repeated directions from police for Williams to drop the weapon and surrender.