Victoria police cleared of wrongdoing after woman fatally shot with less-lethal weapon on Christmas Day

Investigators from B.C.'s Independent Investigations Office are seen in this file photo from the IIO.

A Victoria police officer has been cleared of any wrongdoing by the province’s police watchdog after a woman was shot and killed with less-lethal projectiles on Christmas Day in 2019.

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. (IIO) issued its findings into the case Friday, revealing for the first time how a woman who had barricaded herself inside a downtown supportive housing unit died.

The woman, whose name has not been released by police or the IIO, was allegedly intoxicated and threatening other residents in the building with a knife. Police were called and the woman locked herself inside a suite. The Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team was called to assist before a fire broke out inside the suite.

Police and firefighters entered the suite and one officer shot three projectiles from an anti-riot weapon, known as an ARWEN, striking the woman in the head and neck, knocking her unconscious.

The woman was removed from the building, given first aid and taken to the hospital where she was placed on a ventilator. She did not regain consciousness and was taken off life support four days later on Dec. 29.

The woman suffered massive bleeding in her brain and died of blunt force head injuries, according to the autopsy report cited in the IIO investigation.

Interviews with witnesses, firefighters and police, including the officer who fired the fatal rounds, indicate police opened the suite door using a master key when heavy black smoke began pouring into the hallway.

Police stood in the doorway for five minutes, trying to see into the suite through the smoke using their flashlights. When firefighters arrived on the floor a few minutes later, they sprayed water into the apartment but could not extinguish the blaze.

As police and firefighters entered the suite, one officer told IIO investigators he thought he saw the woman facing officers with her arms at her sides and shouted “contact” to alert the other officers.

“[The subject officer] immediately fires one baton round and I think in my mind that he’s targeting her hips or maybe even her stomach because that’s what I can see,” the witness officer told investigators.

Three plastic rounds were fired and struck the woman, the IIO’s chief civilian director Ronald J. MacDonald wrote in his report.

“She slumped forward, and [the witness officer] realized that what he thought was her abdomen had been the back of her head,” MacDonald wrote. “She had been sitting, facing away from the officers, on a couch.”

The report found there was no reason to conclude the officer deliberately fired the anti-riot weapon – which the report noted is “intended to be fired at the body of a person, preferably striking the large muscle areas of a leg or the abdomen” – at the woman’s head.

The IIO found no officer committed any wrongdoing during the incident and the matter will not be referred to Crown counsel.

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