Three years versus a matter of seconds

Thoughts on the recent outcome of an RCMP officer's trial

Investigators check out the scene after a late-night car chase Tuesday

Investigators check out the scene after a late-night car chase Tuesday

Brian Edmondson

I have considered the recent outcome of the recent trial of Constable Rick Drought, a member of the Cranbrook Detachment of the R.C.M.P.

First off, should peace officers be held to account to the public for their actions? Absolutely, and without doubt, as should all persons whom work in the public service sector whether it be for example elected officials, emergency responders, health care and education professionals. All of these are entrusted to provide a professional service to their respective communities and fellow citizens.

Peace officers are expected to respond, to protect and preserve life, and to knowingly place themselves in harm’s way to do so. They are trained to do so — to take control and resolve a situation with minimal harm to all involved. They are expected to identify, manage, and mitigate risk. This is expected to be performed under the stress of real time, often with minimal information, limited resources, without the benefit of hindsight.

I recall a photograph taken years ago in the United States at the scene of an active shooter incident. The photograph was a panicked mass of students running from a school, in the midst of which was a single peace officer rushing into the school. I believe it was taken at Columbine School in Colorado.

Are mistakes made? Yes, and when they are there must be an accounting not only to the peace officer but to the organization as well.

During my tenure as a Commissioned Officer and a senior member of the R.C.M.P. I was directed several times to conduct an independent officer review of serious incidents where police were involved that resulted in serious injury or the death of an individual. On each occasion I found myself working for several months over massive amounts of material, statements, evidence, facts, and reports submitted by experts. This weighed heavily upon me — more often than once I found myself sitting in the quiet privacy of my home, undisturbed, labouring for hours at time. At the end I needed to be able to account to everyone — the public, those involved in the incident, the organization, other oversight agencies, and most of all myself. Yes, there were instances where I did not side with the peace officers’ actions, accounting or the organization’s policies.

In the instance of the incident involving Constable Drought: Was there a need to have the matter investigated? Absolutely. Did the public have a right to expect this? Absolutely. To be made aware of the facts? Absolutely. Should Constable Drought have expected to be held to account for his actions, specifically the use of potentially deadly force? Absolutely.

This matter, from the day of the incident to the stay of proceeding (Bringing Constable Drought’s trial to an end) was some three years. It was investigated by the I.I.O. (Independent Investigations Office) and prosecuted by the Crown Counsel. Both of these agencies fall under the Ministry of Justice (Suzanne Anton – Attorney General and Minister of Justice for the Province of British Columbia, public service agencies).

Should the I.I.O., or some other agency, thoroughly and diligently investigate the matter? Should Crown Counsel thoroughly and diligently analyse the matter from a perspective of the actions of Constable Drought being lawful? In each instance the answer is absolutely.

Six days into the trial of Constable Drought (October 6 to October 13, 2015) Crown Counsel, while still presenting their case, entered a stay of proceeding. The Defence never did have to present their case, or make a closing submission. The judge was never tasked to make a decision of judgement.

The reason for the entering of the stay, as reported in the media, was for “inconsistencies in the evidence” given by the complainant (the person whom was shot by Constable Drought) and new evidence emerged about the location of the shooting that affected the analyses of the shooting (I take this to mean the analyses of the scene and the physical evidence of the scene).

With respect to inconsistencies in the evidence of the complainant: How many times was he interviewed by I.I.O. Investigators and by Crown Counsel prior to giving evidence? Were not his statements and account of the incident weighed against the totality of the statements of other persons, physical evidence by both the I.I.O. and the Crown Counsel?

With respect to the new evidence pertaining to analyses of the shooting: Where did this, so to speak, 11th hour evidence come from? How was this not uncovered in what would have one would expect to be a thorough, professional, analytical investigation? Certainly would not the previous analyses have raised questions?

Constable Drought has been held to account. I was not there on the evening of the incident. I do not know whether he should or should not have discharged his service pistol and shot this individual. I, thankfully, was retired and not in a position to once again be faced with that heavy responsibility.

It would certainly appear from the stay of proceeding that Constable Drought’s decision that evening some three years ago, made under stress with limited information and limited time was the correct one — at least from a point of law of being able to prove the contrary.

The Independent Investigations Office and the Crown Counsel are as peace officers servants of the public. My question now is who is holding them (specifically the people who made the decisions) to account for their investigations, decisions and actions. After all they did have three years to get it right, while Constable Drought had a matter of seconds to get it right.

Of course there are going to be people who disagree with me, I respect that.

Brian Edmondson retired from the R.C.M.P. in 2012 at the rank of Inspector. The above does not represent the views of the R.C.M.P.