A B.C. police watchdog has set dates for a public hearing into the actions of a Victoria officer that resulted in a woman’s 2019 death.
The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (OPCC) in October ordered a the hearing into an officer discharging three ARWEN weapon rounds at the woman’s head and neck, which resulted in her death.
The public hearing is set to begin on April 15 in Victoria, while a retired judge overseeing the case will also hear submissions on Feb. 14 at the Vancouver Human Rights Tribunal offices, the OPCC said on Feb. 7.
The independent civilian agency’s investigation into the death resulted in two allegations of misconduct, including abuse of authority in relation to the officer’s use of force and neglect of duty over lacking documentation of the incident.
The OPCC has identified Lisa Rauch as the woman who died and Const. Ron Kirkwood as the officer’s whose actions are under scrutiny. Rauch was 43 at the time of her death and was suffering from several vulnerabilities, including homelessness. She had tried to seek help for substance abuse and mental health challenges, but was denied or refused access to supports, the OPCC said.
In announcing the hearing, OPCC Commissioner Clayton Pecknold cited in part that B.C.’s Independent Investigations Office (IIO) lacked evidence from Kirkwood before it cleared him and there are concerns about the officer’s use of force because he lacked a clear visual of his target.
The incident occurred on Dec. 25, 2019, and the IIO in 2020 cleared Kirkwood of recklessness and negligence in relation to the death.
On the day in question, Rauch made alleged threats, had alcohol and other substances in her system and barricaded herself in a housing unit. After about 90 minutes, police moved in once smoke began billowing from the unit and water from the sprinklers could be seen pouring down the side of the building.
When emergency crews entered the smoke-filled unit, one officer told the IIO he saw movement and said “contact” to let others know, and that’s when Kirkwood fired a “baton round” at what he thought was the woman’s midsection.
However, Rauch was sitting at the time and the officer was actually aiming at the back of her head. The three ARWEN rounds struck the woman in the head and neck. Rauch died in hospital days later after being taken off life support, with a post-mortem report concluding she died of blunt force head injuries.
Retired B.C. judge Wally Oppal will preside over the public hearing. He will review evidence, hear sworn testimony and arrive at a decision on whether there was misconduct. If necessary, he’ll determine the corrective and/or disciplinary measures needed.
Oppal can also make recommendations to the Victoria police chief or board about policy and practice changes the department should implement.
Rauch’s family filed a complaint under the police act and requested a public hearing after it said inconsistencies in the evidence and information they were provided by the police and another watchdog garnered further review. The OPCC is mandated to conduct an investigation whenever police actions result in a death or serious harm.