Victoria police, fire and the Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team responding to a barricade incident in the 700-block of Pandora Avenue on Dec. 25, 2019. (Black Press Media file photo)

Victoria police, fire and the Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team responding to a barricade incident in the 700-block of Pandora Avenue on Dec. 25, 2019. (Black Press Media file photo)

Greater Victoria officer cleared of wrongdoing in fatal Christmas Day barricade incident

Woman died after being shot in the head, neck with plastic projectiles

A police watchdog has cleared a Greater Victoria officer involved in the death of a local woman. An investigation was launched after the woman was shot in the head with plastic projectiles on Christmas Day.

On Dec. 25, 2019, members of the Victoria Police Department responded to a call from a supportive housing facility. The complaint alleged an intoxicated woman was threatening residents. She barricaded herself in one of the building’s suites, according to a report from the Independent Investigations Office (IIO), and refused to surrender to police. A fire subsequently broke out and members of the Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team, along with firefighters, entered the unit where the woman was barricaded.

The officer who was the subject of the IIO’s investigation fired three projectiles from an ARWEN (Anti-Riot Weapon ENfield) less-lethal launcher, which struck the woman in the head and neck, knocking her unconscious.

She was taken to hospital where she was placed on a ventilator but did not regain consciousness. On Dec. 29, 2019, she was pronounced dead after being taken off life support.

Police had been called to the same building for the same woman on Christmas Eve. Staff at the housing facility told officers the woman had not been invited into the building and was acting aggressively and violently. The woman was intoxicated and was arrested. She was released at approximately 6:30 a.m. on Christmas Day.

Footage from the supportive housing building shows the woman entering the building again at 1:36 p.m. on Dec. 25. A witness told investigators she spent time in a suite drinking and consuming drugs. The witness said the woman became “psychotic,” angry and aggressive. The witness left the suite and when she later tried to reenter, she found the door locked. The witness said the woman then opened the door with a knife in her hand and threatened to kill the witness. She went to the building manager and asked him to call police shortly before 5 p.m.

READ ALSO: Woman dies after barricading herself in burning suite in downtown Victoria

Officers at the scene said the woman could be heard screaming and smashing things inside the suite. Officers tried calling out to the woman but there was no response. Officers believed they had cause to arrest the woman for uttering threats, assault with a weapon and mischief, and began trying to evacuate the floor after tying a rope on the door to alert them if she tried to leave the suite. However, they encountered difficulties persuading people to leave as it was Christmas Day.

As the situation was now considered a criminal barricade, according to an officer on scene, he asked for the Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team to be called out. At this time, ERT members began arriving and VicPD members began rotating out with officers coming on shift.

At approximately 5:45 p.m. a fire alarm sounded inside the suite and continued for about 10 minutes. The Victoria Fire Department responded but was staged nearby as police were dealing with a barricade situation. At approximately 6:15 p.m. dark smoke began billowing from the window and water could be seen pouring down the side of the building from the suite’s sprinklers.

Another officer at the scene told investigators at this point he was concerned for the safety of other residents in the building and that both police and the woman were at imminent risk from smoke inhalation. He asked for permission to break into the suite to allow the woman to exit and firefighters to extinguish the fire.

In response, ERT members were authorized to breach the door – and if needed – use a “slow and deliberate” advance into the suite to locate the woman and remove her from danger.

At 6:17 p.m. the building’s main fire alarm activated and firefighters responded. Police cut the rope securing the suite’s door and used a master key to unlock it. An officer yelled into the suite once the door was opened wide, giving multiple commands for the woman to exit. The only response, he said, was nonsensical screaming from the woman.

Smoke could be seen on the CCTV system billowing from the suite into the hall and thick black smoke was seen pouring from the exterior windows.

Officers spent approximately five minutes at the door, using flashlights to try to see inside, but were unable to visually locate the woman. At approximately 6:25 p.m., firefighters sprayed water into the suite from the doorway but the fire was not extinguished and the resulting steam worsened visibility.

An officer told investigators the smoke was like a wall reflecting their flashlights but he could see the glow of flames through it. He was concerned the woman had used an accelerant and could be hiding in a loft area above the unit and could potentially drop more accelerant on them.

READ ALSO: Police watchdog investigating death of Vancouver Island woman

“At some point, I picked up some movement straight ahead of us. I don’t know if the smoke cleared a little bit for a moment or if she actually moved but what I thought I was looking at was her standing on the other side of the couch in an open centre of the room.”

He said ‘contact,’ letting other officers know he saw her. Immediately after, the subject officer fired one baton round and he thought the subject officer was targetting her hips or stomach because that’s what he could see. He didn’t realize until she had been hit, that the woman had been sitting and what he thought was her abdomen was the back of her head.

The subject officers fired three ARWEN rounds before the woman reacted, slumping forward. She was immediately evacuated from the room.

After arriving at hospital, the woman was found to be suffering from a massive brain bleed. An autopsy reported cause of death to be blunt force head injuries consistent with ARWEN rounds. A toxicology report found a “heavy level of intoxication with alcohol,” along with methamphetamine and cocaine/benzoylecgonine “within a range associated with recreational use” and a combination of venlafaxine, desmethylvenlaflaxine and trazodone in lesser concentrations consistent with therapeutic and below therapeutic doses.

The purpose of an IIO investigation is to determine if there are reasonable grounds to believe an officer, through action or inaction, may have committed an offence in relation to an incident resulting in serious harm or death.

Investigators found no indication of recklessness or negligence by the subject officers due to a number of circumstances including the woman’s behaviour and threats, the situation created by the fire, the risk to others’ safety and limited visibility.


 

Do you have a story tip? Email: vnc.editorial@blackpress.ca.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

VicPDVictoria

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alyssa Gerwing, executive director of the Sidney Museum and Archives, gets into the Halloween spirit with a lit-up jack-o-lantern. With Treat Street cancelled, the Sidney Business Improvement Area Society has organized a series of other events and activities under the heading of Halloween Spooktacular. (Wolfgang Depner/News Staff)
Sidney serves up ghoulish spills and thrills during Halloween

A virtual Halloween treasure hunt and scary drive-in movies among tricks and treats

Vancouver Island-based Wilson’s Transportation has expanded to fill some of the routes left unserviced by Greyhound as of Nov. 1, 2018. (Black Press files)
B.C. bus companies say they need help to survive COVID-19

Like airlines, motor coaches have lost most of their revenue

The Capital Regional District is considering adding another dollar a year to the parkland acquisition fund fee for homeowners. (Black Press Media file photo)
One dollar or two? Greater Victoria parks acquisition fee hike spurs debate

$2 a year too steep, CRD committee recommends $1 a year increase per household

Samantha Lenz, resort manager for Oceanside RV Resort, says she continues to turn people away, who are looking for a permanent spot to winter on the Saanich Peninsula. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Tourism operators hope Canadian Snowbirds flock to B.C.

Provincial tourism industry hopes to compensate ‘monumental financial losses and hardship’

Patrol officers from VicPD’s Esquimalt division responded to a call about hateful graffiti in Macaulay Park Wednesday evening. (Black Press Media file photo)
Anti-Semitic, hate-based graffiti found in Esquimalt park

Police seek suspects after fresh hate-based graffiti found Wednesday evening

A woman wears a face mask and plastic gloves while browsing books as a sticker on the floor indicates a one-way direction of travel between shelves of books at the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch, after it and four other branches reopened with limited services, in Vancouver, on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
B.C. reports 234 new COVID cases, 1 death of senior who had attended small birthday party

Roughly 5,700 people are isolating due to being exposed to a confirmed case

MNP senior economist Susan Mowbray presents the State of the Island Economic Report on Thursday night to conclude the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance’s virtual summit. (VIEA image)
Not-so-rosy State of the Island report caps off virtual summit

Vancouver Island Economic Alliance’s summit took place online Oct. 27-29

President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Allentown, Pa. on Oct. 26. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
POLL: How closely are you following the U.S. presidential election?

It may feel like it’s been going on forever but the U.S.… Continue reading

Burnaby RCMP responded to a dine-and-dash suspect who fell through a ceiling in March 2020. (RCMP handout)
VIDEO: Suspected dine-and-dasher falls through ceiling of Burnaby restaurant

A woman believed to be dashing on her restaurant bill fell through the kitchen ceiling

A can of Canada Dry Ginger Ale is shown in Toronto on Thursday Oct. 29, 2020. The maker of Canada Dry Ginger Ale has agreed to pay over $200,000 to settle a class-action lawsuit launched by a B.C. man who alleged he was misled by marketing suggesting the soda had medicinal benefits. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Joseph O’Connal
B.C. man’s lawsuit over marketing of Canada Dry ginger ale settled for $200K

Soda’s maker, Canada Dry Mott’s Inc., denied the allegations and any liability

A deer was spotted in October 2020 in Prince Rupert, B.C., with a bright pink yoga ball stuck in its antlers. (Kayla Vickers/Chronicles Of Hammy The Deer Official Page)
Hammy 2.0? Prince Rupert deer spotted with bright pink yoga ball stuck in antlers

The BC Conservation Officer Service is aware of the deer roaming around the city

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Kelowna Mountie hit with 2nd lawsuit in 2 months for alleged assault

Const. Julius Prommer is accused of breaking a woman’s knee during while responding to a noise complaint

Hirdeypal Batth, 24, has been charged with sexual assault and forcible confinement in relation to an incident in August 2020. (VPD handout)
Man, 24, charged with sex assault after allegedly posing as Uber driver in Vancouver

Investigators believe there could be more victims outside of the Vancouver area

Pilot Kevin Maher participated in a flyover of a ceremony at the Cobble Hill cenotaph on Oct. 22 in a 1940 North American (Noorduyn) Harvard aircraft. (Robert Barron/Citizen)
Cobble Hill remembers lost military members with ceremony, flyover

Annual event commemorates those who died in non-combat roles

Most Read