WINNIPEG – An inquest has concluded the fatal shooting of a man by RCMP on a northern Manitoba reserve was an unfortunate misunderstanding that resulted in tragedy.
Judge Murray Thompson doesn’t lay blame in the death of Paul Duck from the God’s Lake Narrows First Nation and doesn’t make any recommendations.
“This was a tragedy for all involved,” Thompson wrote in a report released Wednesday.
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It was early in the morning on March 15, 2011, when Duck heard his sister’s nearby house being vandalized by a large group of young people. The inquest heard he grabbed his shotgun and fired several rounds to scare the kids off.
He pursued them down a hill where RCMP constables Adam Harmes and Shawn Steele were guarding the scene of a house fire that had killed two young children and their grandfather the day before. Duck approached the officers, apparently to talk to them about his sister’s home.
The inquest heard Duck was asked three times to drop his gun. He lowered the weapon to his waist but continued walking toward the officers.
Steele shot him in the arm. The officer later testified that, at that moment, “I thought I was going to lose my life.”
“Clearly there was a disconnect between the officer’s effort to stop the threat and Mr. Duck’s failure to recognize that police viewed him as a threat in those moments,” Thompson wrote.
“There was no logical reason for Mr. Duck to intentionally point his shotgun at Const. Steele. Mr. Duck knew it to be unloaded and further had demonstrated no discernible animosity to police. He was sober and would only have been approaching the officers to talk to them.”
The inquest found Duck was shot in his arm and lost a life-threatening amount of blood within five minutes.
As he lay wounded on the ground, the officers asked him to let go of his gun, which he did.
“When asked if he was the one who fired off the shots moments before, he said, ‘Yes, I should have dropped the gun. I should have dropped the gun,'” Thompson wrote.
Duck was taken to the reserve’s nursing station where he died.
An RCMP training expert testified the officers’ reaction was “consistent with training. They needed to draw their firearms to prepare themselves for what might come.”
An investigation into the shooting by Saskatoon police found no evidence to support criminal charges.
Duck’s family lawyers argued the officers should have communicated more clearly and show have asked Duck specifically to put the gun on the ground.
“Paul Duck did not defy police,” Thompson quoted the lawyers. “He was not told to stop his approach … He was not told to drop his gun on the ground. Consequently, having dropped his gun, he continued his forward momentum.”
Thompson said he understands Duck’s family wonders whether Steele could have done something other than fire on the 52-year-old man.
“Those answers will never likely be determined to their satisfaction.”