(W5 Staff) – Ian Bush. Kevin St Arnaud. Robert Dziekanski.
Three men dead. All killed by RCMP officers in British Columbia. And all RCMP constables involved in their deaths cleared — without any criminal charges.
Internal RCMP investigation reports obtained by W5 show that in all these cases the B.C. Attorney General’s ministry had evidence that contradicted statements of the Mounties involved, yet chose not to prosecute them. Those decisions made by the B.C. Criminal Justice Branch have left the families of the victims wondering if the RCMP is beyond justice.
Ian Bush Case
Linda Bush is the mother of Ian Bush, who was killed while in custody at the Houston, B.C. RCMP detachment, in October, 2005. From the outset, she felt the RCMP were not being honest; misrepresenting her son in their media release only hours after the 22-year-old’s death. “It became clear to us right away that that was their way of blaming Ian rather than the officer who killed him,” said Bush.
On the night of his death, Ian had been arrested at a local hockey arena for giving a false name to RCMP Const. Paul Koester. The officer was called to the arena after complaints about a number of people drinking outside. He was issuing a liquor infraction to Ian Bush, for drinking beer in the parking lot. Koester, who had only been on the job a few months, brought Bush to the detachment.
A fight ensued in the interview room. Koester claims Bush managed to get behind him and was trying to strangle the officer. Koester claims, in self-defence, he managed to pull his service revolver and shoot Bush in the back of the head.
Some of the evidence, presented at the inquest into Bush’s death, however, contradicts Koester’s version of what happened that night.
A medical report, written just six days after the incident, found there were “no visible strangulation marks” on Koester. The officer claimed they had cleared up. But critics wonder how that could be when Bush, according to Koester, had nearly killed him by choking the officer?
There were more shocks to come, including key testimony from one expert who found serious flaws with the officer’s account.
Blood splatter expert Constable Joe Slemko of the Edmonton Police Service was hired by the Bush family to review the evidence. He concluded there was no way the shooting could have occurred as the officer described — Ian Bush on top with Koester underneath.
“My conclusion is that the blood spatter evidence, the physical evidence does not support his version of events. It actually contradicts it,” said Slemko.
Howard Rubin, the lawyer for the Bush family, believes the forensic evidence suggests a very different version of events than the one given by Koester. Rubin disputes Koester’s insistence that he was beneath Bush at the time of the shooting. “Koester was on top,” said Rubin.
In the altercation between Koester and Ian Bush, Rubin believes that Koester gained the upper hand and began striking Bush with his pistol. At that point, Rubin suspects the gun went off, killing Bush.
Kevin St. Arnaud Case
The in-custody death of Ian Bush was not the first for RCMP in British Columbia. Less than a year earlier, 29-year-old Kevin St. Arnaud was killed when rookie RCMP Constable Ryan Sheremetta fired three bullets into the Vanderhoof, B.C. man, after responding to a break-in at a local pharmacy.
Sheremetta claimed St. Arnaud was charging him, that he had slipped on the icy ground while backing away and that he shot St. Arnaud from a sitting position. But the RCMP’s forensic bullet trajectory evidence obtained by W5 raises doubts about Sheremetta’s account, offering differing views of what could have happened that night. One possible conclusion is that the bullet wounds to St. Arnaud were from shots fired from a standing position and from a distance.
For St. Arnaud’s father, Brian Young, the contradictory forensic evidence should have weighed more heavily in deciding whether to charge the RCMP Constable. “They disregarded all the forensic evidence and just went with what Sheremetta said and they took that to be the truth,” Young told W5.
Cameron Ward, lawyer for St. Arnaud’s family, believes Sheremetta wasn’t completely truthful in his account of what happened, and told W5, “you have an unarmed, a young, unarmed man being shot dead from a distance of 15 feet, in what objectively does not look like a case of self-defence.”
Despite contradictory testimony and forensic evidence in the Bush and St. Arnaud cases, British Columbia’s Criminal Justice Branch cleared both RCMP Constables Koester and Sheremetta.
Taser case reveals justice system flaws
About the same time that those cases were winding down, RCMP in British Columbia became involved in another death, that of Robert Dziekanski. This time, however, there was video of the entire episode, shot by a bystander, making it difficult for authorities to accept only the accounts of the four members involved.
The video showed a frightened and confused man who couldn’t speak English. It showed the RCMP arriving, quickly going on the offensive, using Taser guns within seconds, and Dziekanski dying only minutes later.
Once again, B.C.’s Criminal Justice Branch reviewed the evidence — and decided against laying any charges against the RCMP constables involved in the Dziekanski case.
Neil MacKenzie, a Crown Counsel and the Communication Counsel with the Criminal Justice Branch, maintains the agency’s approach to investigating police shootings is thorough.
“We’re taking the results of the investigations that the police have done. They’re often comprehensive packages and we give them a careful analysis and we determine whether or not the evidence supports any criminal charges,” said MacKenzie.
Lawyer Cameron Ward, who acts for the St. Arnaud family doubts the B.C. justice system is capable of a fair review, pointing out that British Columbia’s Criminal Justice Branch has never charged an RCMP officer involved in a shooting death of a civilian. “[That] says to me that, either police officers are perfect and always use lethal force, force with justification, or, more likely in my view, our system of criminal justice is flawed when it comes to dealing with cases like this,” said Ward.
But MacKenzie remains confident in the conclusions reached by the Criminal Justice Branch: “The branch is certainly satisfied that the decisions that were made on those files were made on the basis of a careful analysis of the available evidence.”
Note: Video is available here.