Inquest hears no weapon was found on Brydon Whitstone after he was shot by RCMP
Bullet found inside Whitstone's stomach, jury hears on Day 1 of death inquest
- Read the latest story: Brydon Whitstone's girlfriend and passenger set to testify at death inquest
Brydon Whitstone was not armed when he was shot by an RCMP officer, but he had reached for his waist as police repeatedly ordered him to surrender, according to testimony at the inquest into his death.
An RCMP officer fatally shot 22-year-old Brydon Whitstone of Onion Lake Cree Nation on Oct. 21, 2017 following a brief police pursuit in North Battleford, Sask.
A coroner's inquest into Whitstone's death began Monday in Battleford, Sask. The inquest jury will rule on how Whitstone died and be asked to make recommendations on how to prevent deaths like his.
Sgt. Rob Zentner of the RMCP was first to testify at the inquest. An officer with the RCMP's major crimes unit, Zentner was investigating the shooting before Regina Police Service took over.
Zentner said 13 bullets were found on Whitstone's clothing, and that a live, unused 22-calibre round was found in his stomach, as if Whitstone had swallowed it.
"Do you have any explanation for a live round inside a person's mouth?" asked Tim Hawryluk, the lawyer leading the inquest.
"No, I don't," replied Det. Sgt. Pierre Beauchesne, one of the Regina police officers who took over the investigation into the shooting.
Whitstone's car was pinned by two police vehicles at an intersection. Altogether, six RCMP vehicles, including one unmarked car, pursued Whitstone that night, a tactic gently questioned by Mark Ebert, the lawyer for the Whitstone family.
Ebert also asked Zentner if it was normal practice for an officer to fire at a suspect twice.
"An officer is trained [to shoot] until the threat is stopped," said Zentner. "There is no set number."
Zentner testified that officers repeatedly ordered Whitstone and his passenger, Amanda Wahobin, to put up their hands and get out of the vehicle, but that the two were "non-compliant."
Whitstone continued to rev the engine in an effort to wedge his car out of the police vehicles' grip, Zentner said.
He said that at one point, an officer smashed the driver's side window of Whitstone's car and ordered him out, but the pair remained in the vehicle.
Const. Jerry Abbott was identified by witnesses as the officer who shot Whitstone.
They say Abbott first took cover behind a tree, then moved to the side of Whitstone's smashed-out window. Whitstone initially seemed co-operative and put his hands on the steering wheel but then leaned back and seemed to reach for something, leading officers to believe he had a weapon.
That's when Abbott — fearing for his life, according to his statement — fired his gun twice.
According to Beauchesne, another officer who had surrounded Whitstone's car said he would have done the same had there not been a risk of crossfire.
Crown prosecutors decided last August that Abbott's actions were reasonable under the circumstances, Beauchesne said.
Wahobin and Abbott are both expected to testify this week, but snippets of statements they gave after the shooting were shared with the inquest jury on Monday.
Wahobin's statement echoed an account she gave CBC News last May. She told police that Brydon was suicidal that night.
Wahobin told Regina police that as officers ordered the pair out of the car, and as he pretended to reach for something, Whitstone said, "I'm going to grab it."
RCMP cameras not in action
Jurors also heard that two RCMP vehicle cameras that should have been capturing footage of the scene that night were not in operation.
The Battlefords detachment was in the early stages of installing WatchGuard in-camera video systems in 18 of the detachment's cars, said Jeff Soroka, who monitors the cameras for the RCMP.
Only three of 18 vehicles had cameras on the night of the shooting, and out of those, only one captured a distanced view of the intersection. One of the other camera's hard drives was full, while another simply did not record anything past 5 p.m. CST that night. The shooting occurred some time after 9 p.m.
Today, all 18 vehicles are equipped with cameras.
Hawryluk called it an unfortunate "loophole."
What we knew before
Before the inquest, the RCMP offered only a few details about Whitstone's altercation with the RCMP: that the car Whitstone was in rammed a police vehicle, and that the officer responded to Whitstone's actions that night.
On Monday, Zentner said two RCMP vehicles were rammed during the 20- to 30-second chase, which spanned two city blocks.
The RCMP had received a complaint at about 8:55 p.m. CST that night about people shooting at a man from a vehicle. That complaint led the RCMP to the car driven by Whitstone, which matched the description of the car described in the original shooting complaint.
That complaint was later tied to a different person, as Ebert pointed out during the inquest.
No charges for officer
Whitstone's family has been impatient to hear details about what prompted the officer to shoot.
His mother, Dorothy Laboucane, was present for Monday's testimony, sighing heavy at some points, covering her eyes at others.
Under the province's Coroner's Act, the presiding coroner can see that jurors are pulled from a randomly-selected pool of Status First Nations jurors, as well as another separate pool from the general public.