June 23, 2021

-Global News

Tuesday was day two of the inquest into the death of Steven Rigby, who on Dec. 22, 2018, was killed in a police-involved shooting on the outskirts of Saskatoon.

Cpl. Dean Flaman, who is part of the RCMP detachment in Warman, and who was the first to interact with Rigby, described problems with communication between police departments.

Rigby had been driving around the Pike Lake area, and fired two rounds from his gun into the air before threatening his life, according to his mother, who called RCMP.

By the time RCMP reached Rigby, Flaman said he was on the outskirts of Saskatoon in an area under the jurisdiction of the Saskatoon Police Service.

RCMP had set up a roadblock. Flaman testified that he stopped Rigby, who appeared intoxicated and was driving on the wrong side of the road. Flaman tried speaking with Rigby and giving him orders.

Flaman said he then realized Rigby was also on the phone with Saskatoon Police Service (SPS). Flaman did not know it at first, but Rigby was on the phone with a childhood friend, Const. Jordan Lapointe, who happened to be an SPS officer.

‘Frustrating’ communication

Flaman said that at one point he realized that by trying to speak with Rigby, he was making him more upset and annoyed so he backed off to let Lapointe continue speaking with Rigby on behalf of the SPS.

While RCMP officers were giving Rigby orders to get out of the car, Flaman said the SPS was telling Rigby by phone to stay put.

Saskatoon police ended up taking over the scene, with Lapointe and later crisis negotiators continuing to speak with Rigby over the phone.

Flaman called the situation “frustrating,” testifying it was his scene initially. He said that having SPS give conflicting messages to Rigby was interfering.

“I’m the one negotiating with him. I’m the one that should be speaking to him at that time,” he said.

Rigby drove over a spike belt RCMP had initially laid out to stop him. He drove with flattened tires before crashing into a snowy ditch.

Video from two police vehicles shows Rigby opening and closing the front door several times before getting out. He’s staggering and leaning against the car, fires shots into the air, and falls over before getting back up over several minutes.

The video shows officers shouting for him to drop his weapon. He fires into the air, and officers shoot. Rigby was shot three times: once in the abdomen, once in the thigh, and once in the arm.

Sgt. Aaron Moser, who was the on-scene supervisor for SPS during the incident, said he didn’t see the shooting, but immediately after, he and another officer noticed Rigby still had the gun in his right hand, with his finger on the trigger.

Rigby lay in the snow for several minutes, according to the video, before officers approached and finally paramedics were able to treat him.

Paramedic Alicia Westad testified that Rigby had no pulse, was struggling to breathe, and was in cardiac arrest when her team reached him.

He was transported to Royal University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy shows he died of blood loss, and the shot to his abdomen severed a major artery.

When asked about shooting to kill versus aiming for less vital parts of the body, Moser said police officers are only trained to discharge their firearms to stop a threat. They’re trained to shoot at “centre mass” or for the head, not extremities like arms or legs.

Better communication needed

Friends previously testified that Rigby had a history of mental health issues, including an interaction with police during a suicide attempt in North Battleford in 2018.

However, the inquest heard RCMP and Saskatoon police have different databases holding information on people; while SPS had his history at its disposal, RCMP did not have easy access to the full story.

Rigby had talked about suicide by police for years, according to Lapointe. Saskatoon officers were made aware of this, and that Rigby was experiencing a mental health crisis and had a gun.

Moser testified that officers felt the situation was too dangerous to approach closer or to send in a police dog to distract him. They worried they would angry him and trigger a shoot-out.

The lead investigator into the conduct of police, Sgt. Tony Boemsch, testified that no criminal charges were recommended against the 16 officers who were investigated for directly or indirectly contributing to the death.

According to a transcript read out during the inquest, audio from inside an RCMP vehicle after that shooting. It captured an unknown person telling one RCMP officer to say they were scared and feared for their life during the incident.

“Just tell them how you felt. That’s what you’ve got to get across to them — that you’re scared and you were scared to death,” the voice said.

The officer responded they hadn’t shot Rigby, but the voice responds, “I know but still you still want to say how it made you feel and that you were scared.”

Officers involved in the shooting were almost immediately separated, and later interviewed about what happened, Boemsch said, adding that’s standard to ensure they don’t compare stories or misremember details.

Flaman, in his testimony, noted he wished communication between SPS and RCMP had been better. A peace officer for 20 years, Flaman said he has not received any formal mental health training — something he said is needed, especially for situations like this.

The inquest is scheduled for the rest of this week.