Video shows Steven Rigby did not point gun at Saskatoon police, family says
Warning: this story contains content some readers may find disturbing
When Carey Rigby-Wilcox first heard her son, Steven, had died in a police-involved shooting, she feared he had acted out in a threatening way, even though deep down she felt her son would never hurt police.
Now, more than two years after his death, Rigby-Wilcox has watched two police videos of her mentally ill son's shooting and says she feels relieved — and appalled.
While Steven did fire his gun, "to me, the gun is vertically in the air. It's not pointing at anyone," Rigby-Wilcox said. "I don't know where the threat was at that particular moment.
"I need to hear for myself how they felt threatened from my little boy."
Rigby-Wilcox's recap of the videos is the first new account of the Dec. 22, 2018, shooting since the Saskatoon Police Service issued a news release shortly after the incident.
It also comes on the cusp of a week-long coroner's inquest into Rigby's death beginning in Saskatoon on Monday.
"The Saskatoon Police Service will be participating in the inquest and will not be able to provide comment until after those proceedings are complete," the police service said Saturday.
CBC News has also reached out for comment to the union representing local officers.
According to the original police release about the shooting, Rigby had a handgun and was threatening to harm himself and officers.
"[He] refused to comply with officer commands and fired his gun," the statement read. "Officers perceived a threat and engaged."
Rigby, 27, died from his wounds in hospital.
Few other details were provided in a news conference with police Chief Troy Cooper.
The police service's own major crimes unit investigated the shooting. An independent observer, typically a former police officer, has been tapped by the province to oversee the police investigation.
Rigby had friends on force, mom says
Rigby-Wilcox says her family was left with a host of questions for the next two and a half years, including whether Rigby pointed his weapon or shot at officers — he had recently threatened to commit suicide by cop, according to the medical records obtained by his mother — and whether he pointed his gun on himself.
Rigby-Wilcox says she was interviewed by police for hours after the shooting, but was only told no officers had been hurt.
"I said, 'OK, good, because Steven wouldn't want that to happen.'"
Rigby had friends on the police force, she said.
Melanie West, Rigby's younger sister, says her brother knew how to use a gun safely.
"He also had the biggest heart," she said. "So I absolutely do not believe he would have ever fired toward a police officer."
'I want to hear their reasoning'
CBC News has not seen the videos, but has interviewed Rigby-Wilcox about her family's viewing of them.
The videos were provided to her lawyer, Brian Pfefferle, to help the family prepare for the public inquest, where the video footage is expected to be played, Pfefferle says.
One video shows a clearer view of the shooting than the other, he says.
"We saw that Steven fired shots into the air just prior to being shot by police," Rigby-Wilcox said in a statement sent by Pfefferle. "We were relieved to see that the video never showed him shooting in the direction of police or attempting to do so. It was obvious to us he only wanted to hurt himself as he shot directly into the sky."
Rigby was fired on by several officers, though the police files shared with Pfefferle suggest only two officers struck Rigby, she said.
All of those officers are currently on the witness list for the inquest.
"I want to hear their reasoning behind why they felt Steven was a threat," she said.
Inquests are not criminal trials and are billed as fact-finding missions. They typically happen after Saskatchewan Crown prosecutors have determined there was no criminal wrongdoing on the part of officers.
After hearing from all witnesses, the six inquest jurors will choose from one of five categories to determine Rigby's manner of death: homicide, suicide, accident, natural causes or "undetermined."
They will also be asked to recommend how deaths such as Rigby's can be prevented in the future.
Foremost among the questions Rigby-Wilcox still has is whether less-lethal options, including Tasers, beanbag shotguns, rubber bullets or police dogs were available to officers that night.
"There's so many opportunities that they could have handled this different," she said after viewing the video. "He's intoxicated. He's falling-down drunk. He's trying to get up. He's wearing his business shoes. It's slippery. It's icy out.
"One [bean]bag to his leg would have shot him to the ground."
Many vehicles at scene
Rigby-Wilcox and her partner Richard were down the road from the police scene that night, but did not have a view of Rigby and the officers, she said.
Steven had spoken of suicide-by-cop to the family and they were tracking his phone, she recalls.
They also called 911, a decision Rigby-Wilcox has said she made to help her son but that she now regrets.
"Rich said, 'If any cops pull him over, he's going to shoot in the air but he won't hurt anybody. He's going to do suicide-by-cop," she said. "Rich repeated that, and I repeated that to 911."
During his news conference, Cooper said Rigby had been in contact with several people by phone, including the police service's crisis negotiation team.
Chris Rhodes, a member of that unit — and the president of the union representing Saskatoon police officers — is among the witnesses expected to testify during the inquest.
According to the police release, the shooting happened at about 9:20 p.m. CST, long after sunset.
"They had so many lights," Rigby-Wilcox said of the numerous police vehicles at the scene.
Saskatoon police said they had been notified just before 8:00 p.m. CST that Warman RCMP were responding to a distressed Rigby.
What role the RCMP played in the ensuing confrontation, if any, remains unclear.
The inquest begins on Monday at the Saskatoon Inn and Conference Centre with jury selection at 10 a.m.
Approximately 17 witnesses are currently scheduled to testify. The roster includes:
- Several police officers, including former Saskatoon corporal Nathan Lynchuk. Lynchuk said he recently left the force over differences about COVID-19 public health protocols.
- Shelly Martin, a friend of Rigby's who once accompanied him to the hospital.
- Dr. Jason Wagner, the doctor who committed Rigby to a mental health facility three days before his death.
- Dr. Monika Hooper, the doctor who discharged Rigby two days before his death after he appeared "calm, organized and coherent" and declined to stay voluntarily, according to medical records obtained by Rigby's mother.
The family had hoped Rigby's months-long struggle with mental illness prior to the shooting would also be examined during the inquest.
Pfefferle and lawyers for other groups will be able to question each witness, as will the jury.
Scott Spencer — the defence lawyer known for successfully representing Gerald Stanley, the man acquitted of second-degree murder in the death of Colten Boushie — will represent the Saskatchewan Health Authority. The authority has been criticized by Rigby's family over their treatment of his mental-health issues.
The Saskatoon Police Service will have its own lawyer, too.
While open to the public, the event will be limited to 150 attendees due to the rules of Phase 2 of Saskatchewan's reopening plan.
If you're experiencing suicidal thoughts or having a mental health crisis, help is available.
For an emergency or crisis situation, call 911.
You can also contact the Saskatchewan suicide prevention line toll-free, 24/7 by calling 1-833-456-4566, texting 45645, or chatting online.
You can contact the Regina mobile crisis services suicide line at 306-525-5333 or Saskatoon mobile crisis line at 306-933-6200.
You can also text CONNECT to 686868 and get immediate support from a crisis responder through the Crisis Text Line, powered by Kids Help Phone.
Kids Help Phone can also be reached at 1-800-668-6868, or you can access live chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca.