Robert Matas, Vancouver, B.C. (Globe and Mail) – The Toronto Police Service has been asked to review an internal RCMP investigation in British Columbia into the circumstances of the police shooting of a 29-year-old unarmed man who was so drunk he could barely stand up.
Constable Ryan Sheremetta, a rookie officer with less than two years of experience, was suspended yesterday with pay for making “false, misleading or inaccurate statements” at a coroner’s inquest into the death of Kevin St. Arnaud, RCMP Assistant Commissioner Al Macintyre said at a news conference.
The officer, who testified at an inquest last year that he shot Mr. Arnaud in self-defence, misled the inquest while testifying about his experience in seizing handguns from suspects during his time with the Vanderhoof detachment in northern B.C., Assistant Commissioner Macintyre said.
An internal RCMP investigation, which looked into all aspects of the police shooting on Dec. 19, 2004, raised no other concerns about Constable Sheremetta’s actions or the officer’s account of his actions at the inquest, he said.
However, the Toronto police were asked to conduct a complete file review of the RCMP investigation as a matter of due diligence, Assistant Commissioner Macintyre said.
“They will scrub the entire thing down, from top to bottom,” he said. “They will look at evidence from the shooting, the photographs, the statements, and the evidence given under oath at the inquest.”
An inquest last year heard that Mr. St. Arnaud was shot three times at close range. Earlier, he had been at a Christmas party, where he became intoxicated. A woman who was drinking with Mr. St. Arnaud said he could barely stand when they left the bar.
After leaving the party, he broke into a pharmacy, setting off an alarm. Constable Sheremetta arrived and chased him to a well-lit soccer field.
Mr. St. Arnaud turned and came at the officer with a “death look” and screaming: “You’re going to have to shoot me,” according to Constable Sheremetta’s statement during the internal investigation. The officer said he slipped on ice as he backed up. With Mr. St. Arnaud virtually “on top of him” and fearing for his life, Constable Sheremetta said he fired three shots at Mr. St. Arnaud, killing him instantly.
Constable Sheremetta’s account was inconsistent in some aspects with ballistics evidence, forensics experts and another RCMP officer who witnessed the shooting.
Constable Sheremetta was reassigned to administrative duties in Kamloops during the internal investigation.
Dolores Young, Mr. St. Arnaud’s mother, said in an interview from Vanderhoof she hoped the review by Toronto police would be the first step toward revamping how police shootings are investigated in B.C. “It gives us a little bit more faith [in the system] and some hope,” she said.
Cameron Ward, a Vancouver lawyer who represented Mr. St. Arnaud’s former common-law spouse at the inquest, said an independent civilian organization should have been called to the scene of the shooting immediately to conduct the initial investigation.
Asking an outside agency to review an internal investigation is not a solution “to the very real problem in this province which arises from police forces investigating their own members in these very serious cases,” he said, adding that he was speaking generally about the issue of police investigating themselves.
“I welcome an external review,” he said, “but I still remain of the opinion that cases involving serious injury or death at the hands of police should be independently investigated from the outset. In my experience, the investigation and the critical first steps are often flawed, and no amount of review [of the initial investigation] will fix or correct those flaws.”
Mr. Ward had cross-examined Constable Sheremetta at the inquest and drew responses that were found to be misleading. However, Mr. Ward declined to comment on the decision to suspend the officer.
The internal RCMP investigation was conducted by an investigator for the Commission for Public Complaints and a senior RCMP investigator. An internal criminal investigation was also conducted and the findings were sent to Crown prosecutors who will decide whether a criminal charge will be laid.