No police wrongdoing in Whistler incident that left a man dead, IIO concludes

Warning: The video at the top of this story contains an image that some readers might find disturbing.

B.C.'s police watchdog has concluded that RCMP officers did not use excessive force in their efforts to arrest a man who was causing a disturbance in a Whistler restaurant in March 2020.

The man, identified to CTV News Vancouver by a friend as local business owner Jason Koehler, died during the altercation, during which police used physical force, Tasers and pepper spray in an attempt to arrest him. 

In a decision released Friday, the Independent Investigations Office's chief civilian director Ron MacDonald concluded that there are no reasonable grounds to believe any of the four officers involved in the incident committed an offence. 

MacDonald's decision provides a lengthy narrative of the events that played out at Stonesedge Kitchen in Whistler on the morning of March 8, 2020. The narrative is based on the accounts of 32 civilian witnesses, six first responders and four witness officers. The "subject officer" in the case did not speak to the IIO.

The decision also refers to video recorded by a witness and surveillance video from the restaurant, as well as evidence from police radio transmissions and scene examination.

Koehler is not identified by name in the decision, and has not been publicly named as the deceased in the incident by the RCMP or the IIO.

MacDonald refers to the deceased in his decision as the "affected person," abbreviated AP.

According to MacDonald, the affected person arrived at the restaurant between 10 and 10:15 a.m., ordered food and drink, and sat at the bar.

"The witnesses described AP's behaviour as abnormal and erratic," MacDonald wrote in his decision. "He was said to be talking to himself, striking the bar, uttering threats to no one in particular, and at one point going outside to yell at passersby."

Restaurant staff asked him to quiet down or he would have to go, according to MacDonald, and they eventually grew concerned for their safety and called police.

Three officers from the Whistler RCMP detachment responded and had a conversation with the man, which MacDonald describes as appearing "unremarkable" on surveillance video.

Witnesses told MacDonald the officers asked the affected person to step outside with them, and that he refused to do so, asking what he had done wrong.

The subject officer took the affected person's ID near the beginning of the interaction and placed it in his pocket. When he retrieved the ID about two minutes later, the affected person "snatched it" from his hand, MacDonald writes in his decision.

"In response, (the subject officer) extends his right arm, in what appears to be an attempt to grab at the left side of AP's face or neck," MacDonald writes. "AP takes hold of SO's arm and fighting immediately ensues."

During the fight, multiple officers struggled to restrain the affected person, and resorted to using their Tasers and, eventually, pepper spray.

There was a pause in the fight, during which officers disengaged and the affected person stood up. Video of the altercation shows him holding his arms out and gesturing toward the exit, saying, "Hold me like this. I'll walk."

MacDonald writes in his decision that police officers believed the affected person was acting too unpredictably for them to trust his apparent offer to surrender. Within a few seconds of it, he had returned to saying "apparently nonsensical things," MacDonald notes.

"It would not be reasonable for officers to rely on his brief moments of apparent lucidity to risk re-engaging physically before backup arrived," according to MacDonald's decision.

It was after backup arrived and officers re-engaged physically that the man "went limp" and appeared unresponsive. Officers called an ambulance and began CPR, but the man did not survive.

MacDonald writes in his decision that toxicology testing revealed that the affected person had cocaine, methamphetamine, THC metabolite and naloxone in his system.

"The pathologist stated that the cause of death was the combined effect of cocaine and methamphetamine toxicity, dilated cardiomyopathy, and struggle during physical restraint," MacDonald writes.

The civilian director concludes that officers used necessary force intended to control the affected person, and did not use excessive force that could cause more significant harm.

"AP was suffering from numerous serious health conditions and was further still at risk because of his consumption of narcotics, but the officers tasked with resolving the situation and placing him under arrest could not be expected to foresee that the struggle to achieve that would end in his death" MacDonald writes. "The fact that it did cannot be laid at the feet of the arresting officers."