N.W.T. woman killed in standoff made threats on phone

A Yellowknife coroner's jury heard Karen Lander make threats and suicidal statements in her final conversations with police in the hours before she was shot and killed during a standoff last year.

Coroner's jury hears recordings of police negotiations with Karen Lander

A Yellowknife coroner's jury heard Karen Lander make threats and suicidal statements in her final conversations with police in the hours before she was shot and killed during a standoff last year.

Recorded phone negotiations were played Friday at the inquest into her death.

Yellowknife RCMP vehicles block the street outside Karen Lander's home. Lander was shot and killed by police during a standoff in March 2012. (CBC)

When RCMP got reports mid-afternoon March 14, 2012, that Lander was in a house with between 20 and 30 guns, they started planning a negotiation strategy immediately.

Const. Todd Scaplen, the primary negotiator, called Lander around 4 p.m. He said he used a "backyard barbecue voice" to put her at ease. Scaplen tried to convince her to leave the house and show police everything was OK.

At first Lander denied she was feeling suicidal and said she was looking forward to visiting her sons the next day. She hung up several times.

Over the course of two hours, Scaplen called back constantly and sometimes got through.

Lander's statements grew increasingly distraught. She admitted to drinking and started threatening police, saying she had a gun.

The jury heard Lander say things such as:  "I'm going to shoot anybody and everybody, you're going to shoot me dead," "I would never kill anyone but myself," and "I'm going to come out with an unloaded gun … Come on, do it. I dare you, I double dare you."

Scaplen said they knew Lander might attempt suicide by provoking police to shoot her.

Lander told police she'd found a rifle and a bullet, and at one point on the phone, police thought they heard the sound of a trigger.

Sometimes police call in family members or people trusted by the suspect for negotiations. In this case, the RCMP did not, but the RCMP negotiation's team leader said Scaplen handled the negotiations well.

One social justice worker said a mental health specialist could help in crisis situations such as this.

Lydia Bardak of the John Howard Society says community mental health specialists could help in crisis situations such as armed standoffs. (CBC)

"Mental health specialists are trained with recognizing what level of threat somebody is in," said Lydia Bardak of the John Howard Society.

"If it's a suicide risk, understanding what techniques or how to talk to a person. In town we often build a rapport with the people we work with, so through that rapport you learn how to talk to people, you build a connection."

In the recordings, Lander's voice became more and more irate, eventually yelling at Scaplen and hanging up for the last time.

Fifteen minutes later, just after 6 p.m., she left the house carrying a rifle.

A sniper watched Lander exit from a nearby home while four officers waited near the end of the street.

The jury heard officers speak back and forth on the radio. They said, "walking down the driveway — got a gun in her hand … out of the house … roll."

Then another officer said, "Shots fired by members. Hold positions."

It all happened in about a minute.

The radio and the recording the jury heard didn't capture the sound of police yelling at Lander to stop.

Only later did they learn her rifle was not loaded.

Const. Matt Hallett, who was in charge of the emergency response team, told the jury even if Lander had said the gun was not loaded, police are trained not to trust people in crisis.

Jury members and lawyers asked him why police hadn't used non-lethal force such as rubber bullets, tasers, police dogs or even bean bag grenades.

Hallett said those options aren't always effective or accurate. He said under the circumstances, and with the risk, firing was the only option.

The three RCMP officers who shot Lander will testify Monday.