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Officer justified in shooting man who used bear spray in B.C. RCMP detachment: Watchdog

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B.C.’s civilian police watchdog has cleared an RCMP officer who shot a suspect in the groin in the Prince George detachment last summer.

While he was being booked, the man grabbed and discharged a canister of bear spray, according to a report from the Independent Investigations Office. An officer subsequently shot him.

The incident happened on July 11, 2022, after the man was arrested for allegedly fleeing police, who suspected him of shoplifting.

According to the IIO, the man was taken to cells after police found a knife and what was later determined to be a pellet gun that looked like a real pistol.

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Back at the detachment, police searched his backpack and found another knife and a can of bear spray, which were placed on a shelf behind the booking counter.

Security video viewed by the IIO showed that the man was to brought to the booking counter and his handcuffs were removed. He then reached down to the shelf and grabbed the bear spray, deploying it behind the counter primarily at one officer.

The video then shows him drop the can and fall to the ground, apparently wounded, the IIO report states.

“Two civilian employees were also present in the guard room area behind the booking counter at the time of the incident and were also in danger of being affected by the bear spray or injured by any other weapon available to AP by simply reaching over the counter,” the report states.

“Asked later by IIO investigators about his actions, (the suspect) acknowledged having shown a lack of judgement in grabbing the bear spray and in spraying it at the officers: ‘I didn’t give it any thought. It just happened.'”

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The IIO concluded that assault with bear spray in itself would not usually be considered as posing a threat of death or grievous bodily harm.

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However, it said that the officer was faced with a situation in which his vision was impaired and he was left retreating while the suspect had other weapons within easy reach. uUnarmed civilians were also present in an enclosed area that the man could have climbed into.

“The practice of police placing seized weapons on an unsecured shelf within easy reach of detainees can certainly be criticized as sloppy and risky, to say the least,” the report found, but concluded nonetheless that the officer’s response was “within a reasonable and justifiable range.”

“He fired one round, was able to neutralize the threat to himself and those under his protection, and used no further force,” the report concludes.

“(The suspect’s) injury was the result of his own impulsive and essentially inexplicable acts.”

Accordingly, the IIO’s chief civilian director concluded there were no reasonable grounds to believe the officer may have committed an offence and declined to forward a report to Crown counsel for consideration of charges.