Surrey Mounties have been cleared by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. in two tragic South Surrey cases involving a traffic crash and a violent public suicide.
Both incidents happened in the last days of 2012.
On Dec. 27 a Surrey Mountie driving an unmarked RCMP van on Highway 10 towards 184th Street and crashed with a sedan driven by Donald Allan Murray, 72. Richard Rosenthal, chief civilian director of the IIO, found that Murray had turned left in front of the on-coming police van, causing the collision. Murray died of his injuries in Peace Arch Hospital on New Year's Eve.
Before he died, Murray told the RCMP he had turned suddenly in order to avoid an ambulance and told a paramedic at the scene that he had "made a bad decision." A witness told IIO investigators that Murray looked "confused and startled" prior to the crash. The Mountie, whose name was not released, told the IIO that he didn't see or hear the ambulance.
"The ambulance was far enough away that they didn't actually see the collision," Rosenthal said.
Crash data downloaded from the RCMP van confirmed the Mountie hadn't been speeding.
"We concluded there was no reason to believe that the officer involved committed any offence," Rosenthal said. "We have no reason to believe the officer impeded in any way the ambulance. He was simply driving through the intersection having not heard or seen the ambulance and the car turned in front of him. As a result there was a collision and the unfortunate result was the death of this 72-year-old man. The officer, however, was not at fault and I'm not going to be sending the case to Crown."
The other incident happened on Dec. 21. A 42-year-old man, whose name has not been released, shot himself in the head after a Surrey Mountie pulled him over for a traffic violation, not realizing the man had been involved in a shooting in Newton less than 20 minutes earlier. After the Mountie stopped the van, he heard a "pop" and saw the van roll across King George Boulevard, strike a fence and then roll back to a centre median on 24th Avenue.
"Unbeknownst to the officer, it was being driven by a 42-year-old man who had recently been involved in a shooting and was in immediate flight from that shooting," Rosenthal noted. "The individual subsequently committed suicide, shooting himself in the head. The officer did not realize that in fact that had occurred."
"All that occurred was that the officer conducted a lawful traffic stop and the individual committed suicide in his presence."
Earlier that morning, a Surrey mother had been shot, by a masked man, in front of her 10-year-old son. The gunman had confronted the 35-year-old woman and her child in their carport, near 127th Street and 63rd Avenue in Newton. An argument broke out and the woman was shot in the shoulder and wrist.
The IIO, which was set up last September, aims to keep B.C. police officers accountable in cases involving in-custody deaths and serious injuries.
"When the public doesn't have faith in the police, everything collapses," Rosenthal said. "There will be officers who will commit crimes. The real issue is not that they are doing that - the issue is how will the departments, how are the agencies, how is the government handling it when that kind of act occurs. And if we're handling them appropriately, then public faith should be restored.
So far, the IIO has dealt with 17 cases. Five concern shootings that police were involved in. One of those involves Vancouver Police, another involves an integrated police team in New Westminster, and the other three incidents involve the RCMP, but not in Surrey.
Rosenthal and his staff of 60 are poised to travel anywhere in the province, at a moment's notice, to investigate police involvement in such cases, whether on or off duty.
The IIO has a budget of $9.3 million in its first year and $10 million per year after that.