Police officer friend tried to calm Steven Rigby over phone before fatal shot
Warning: this story contains content some readers may find disturbing
- The latest: Steven Rigby pointed his gun toward officers, investigator testifies at Saskatoon inquest
A member of the Saskatoon Police Service who was one of Steven Rigby's best friends was trying to calm him down for more than an hour over the phone before Rigby was fatally shot during an altercation with officers, an inquest has heard.
"I'm pleading with him, begging him not to do anything and he keeps saying 'I'm sorry,'" Const. Jordan Lapointe said Monday of that final, emotional call.
A coroner's inquest this week is probing the circumstances of Rigby's death on the outskirts of Saskatoon on Dec. 22, 2018.
The mentally-ill 27-year-old was armed and threatening himself and officers, according to a police release at the time. He fired his gun and officers fired back after perceiving a threat.
Three bullets struck Rigby, including one to his abdomen, and he stopped showing signs of life before he reached the hospital despite the aggressive efforts of paramedics, according to testimony from a forensic pathologist and the E.R. doctor who oversaw attempts to resuscitate Rigby.
He had threatened suicide by cop several times, Lapointe said in his own testimony.
"If he was going to go, he was going to go out in a shootout," he said.
Details of what happened on the ground that night in December 2018 remain unclear, such as whether Rigby fired at officers and whether he turned his gun on himself.
But inquest witnesses who were physically at the police scene with Rigby, including those who shot at him, are expected to give their accounts later in the week.
Shots outside car window
Lapointe described in painful detail his efforts to verbally deescalate the situation that ended in Rigby's death — receiving a long hug from Rigby's mother during a break in his testimony.
He knew Rigby from an early age, he said.
Lapointe spoke to Rigby over the phone for an hour and 23 minutes while seated in a superior's office at the Saskatoon police station — sometimes telling jokes, sometimes reminding him of the loved ones he would be leaving behind.
In Lapointe's other ear was a police radio mic giving updates on Rigby at the scene.
Lapointe is not a member of the police's service crisis negotiation team but was advised by one during the call and has been trained in more basic "verbal judo" training," he said.
"I've never had to use it against someone who was a friend," he said.
Lapointe knew of Rigby's mental health struggles and severe alcoholism and even helped him take his medications properly, he said.
Rigby eventually drove on Valley Road, on the southwest edge of the city, where his car went into a ditch after going over a spike belt laid down by the RCMP.
"I'm telling him, 'Please, just stop. Just cooperate,'" Lapointe said.
Rigby grew more slurred as the call went on and could be heard firing his gun outside his car window several times, he said.
'I felt like I knew I was going to lose my best friend'
About halfway through the call, a member of the crisis negotiation team got on the line with Rigby, which upset him, so Lapointe took the line again, he said.
"I heard more shots going off and I was screaming at him," Lapointe said. "I felt like I knew I was going to lose my best friend."
A final set of shots rang out and Lapointe could only hear Rigby moaning, he said. Officers had fired on Rigby. What exactly prompted them has yet to be heard by the inquest jury, which has been tasked with terming Rigby's death either a homicide, suicide, accident, natural causes or "undetermined."
Carey Rigby-Wilcox, Rigby's mother, said she has watched two police videos of the shooting and that Rigby fired his gun in the air but did not point his weapon at officers.
Brian Pfefferle, the lawyer for Rigby's family, asked Lapointe what he would have done had he been allowed to go to the scene.
"I would honestly just walk right up to him probably" and disarm him, he said. "I know he wouldn't hurt anybody. Specifically, me."
"There's tons of things I would have loved to do," he added.
Under further questioning by Ashley Smith, the lawyer for the Saskatoon Police Service, as well as Tim Hawryluk, the presiding coroner, Lapointe agreed it is neither standard protocol nor safe for officers to get involved in incidents with family members or friends.
Rigby coworker testifies
Lapointe wasn't the only friend touched by Rigby's mental illness who testified on Monday.
Shelly Martin worked at a telecommunications store in North Battleford managed by Rigby.
When she first became friends with him, he seemed happy and inspired his staff, she said.
But in the summer of 2018, things changed. Rigby tried to commit suicide during one episode. In another, he locked himself inside his office, forcing Martin to break the door down with a hammer.
"He never told me what led to it," she said.
Martin said she was there after yet another episode when Rigby grew upset with a doctor at Battlefords Union Hospital. The doctor told him he wasn't suicidal and wouldn't listen to Rigby, she said.
"He screamed at the RCMP that if he had to talk to the doctor he was going to kill himself," Martin said.
Under cross examination by Scott Spencer — the lawyer representing the Saskatchewan Health Authority — Martin said the doctor had previously committed Steven to a mental health facility.
Later in the year, just days before the shooting, Rigby was committed, then released, from Saskatoon's Irene and Les Dubé Centre for Mental Health. A doctor at the centre noted Rigby had recently threatened suicide by cop.
Inquests are meant in part to prevent similar deaths in the future, so Martin was asked if she had any suggestions.
She said people who suffer from alcoholism and mental illness need to receive proper treatment.
Lapointe was asked for suggestions as well.
"I don't think that he should have been released from the hospital, especially when he's going in there with some serious previous events," he said or Rigby. "I believe that if he remained in the hospital longer than he did, we wouldn't be in this situation right now."
That call was one of the worst events in his life, Lapointe said.
"I don't want anyone else have to go through what I and the families have gone through," he said.
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.