The family of the late Peter de Groot says a report on his death at the hands of the RCMP in 2014 is flawed because the officer who shot him chose not to co-operate with the investigation.
They say it also ignored crucial evidence, did not investigate the cause of the manhunt that led to the shooting, and did not address the “militaristic” scale of that manhunt.
A written statement on behalf of the family about the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) report was released Friday by Don Sorochan, the family’s lawyer.
Investigations by the IIO, a civilian body independent of the police, are initiated whenever a police officer causes death or serious harm. The IIO can recommend criminal charges to the Crown if they decide it is warranted after an investigation.
The report on the death of Peter De Groot took more than three years to complete and was released last month with the RCMP being exonerated of using undue force.
Dispelling the rumours
Sorochan’s statement refutes many assertions made about Peter De Groot in the media and on social media during the 2014 incident. He was not mentally ill, Sorochan writes, nor was he a military veteran, a sufferer from post-traumatic stress disorder, a criminal, a drug addict or on antidepressants.
De Groot, according to his family, had been accepted to a PhD program in International Relations at Purdue University when he suffered a disabling brain aneurysm that required surgery and subsequently led to frequent seizures. His rural life in Slocan was his attempt to live a quiet life while dealing with a traumatic brain injury.
The events of Oct. 9, 2014
The IIO report deals only with the incident on Oct. 13, 2014, when De Groot was shot in an isolated cabin. It does not cover the initiating situation on Oct. 9 when the RCMP were first called to deal with a dispute between De Groot and a neighbour. The family believes this is an important missing piece in the report.
“From the outset,” Sorochan writes, “Peter’s family has sought an explanation as to why the police were involved with Peter at all.”
The RCMP has alleged that on Oct. 9, De Groot fired at them first. But according to Sorochan, there was an independent witness who claimed the RCMP fired the first shot on that day, but the IIO did not address this in its report and it is unknown whether they investigated it.
At the cabin
After De Groot was shot in a cabin three kilometres from town on October 13, the IIO report states that four pathologists examined De Groot’s body over a period of almost two years.
This delay, and the number of pathologists, was prompted by difficulty in reconciling differing pathologist conclusions with the evidence given by the officer named in the IIO report as as Officer 2, who told investigators that when they suspected De Groot was in the cabin, he and Officer 1 approached it and each stood on one side of the door.
“Officer 1 stood to the left of the door with his rifle up,” the IIO report states. “Officer 2 said that he opened and pushed the door inward. He said he then saw a rifle come up. He believed it was about 60 centimetres above the floor. Although Officer 2 could not see (De Groot) he believed that he was lying on the cabin floor.”
Officer 1 then fired the shot that killed De Groot. It was the only shot fired during the incident at the cabin.
The first two pathology reports indicated that De Groot had been shot in the back. More detailed reports done later, including one commissioned by the family, found that he had been shot from the front, which coincided with evidence given by Officer 2.
Sorochan writes that the report “ignores the serious issues that arise from other findings of the pathologist’s reports. Peter was not just shot – his body suffered serious trauma wounds that were incurred immediately before and at the time of his death and that were clearly noted in the pathology report, alone suggestive of the use of excessive force by police.”
Other issues that were ignored or not analyzed deeply enough, according to Sorochan, include the position of the body, the position of blood stains, and De Groot’s movements around the cabin after he had been shot.
But Sorochan’s strongest statement concerns the fact that Officer 1, who shot De Groot, refused to give a statement or evidence to the IIO investigators. Sorochan quotes a member of the family:
“What has been produced is a document that does not include an account from both police officers involved and does not rely on the entirety of forensic evidence available. A great deal of information has been collected by the IIO, picking and choosing evidence to match the statement of a singular, involved police witness (Officer 2).”
Sorochan states that the investigation report calls into question not just the quality of the investigation but “the entire validity of the IIO as an investigative body.” He describes the IIO as “police oversight designed to fail.”
IIO powers limited
The power of the IIO is limited by a Memorandum of Understanding between it and the police in B.C., which allows investigated officers to decline to be make a statement to investigators.
“This failure to co-operate,” Sorochan writes concerning Officer 1, “is especially critical because the only other person present, Officer 2, states that he never actually saw Peter before the fatal shot was fired by his brother officer.”
Sorochan writes that the Memorandum of Understanding cannot legally override public protections in the Police Act or in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but “it is treated by the IIO as if it does.”
Sorochan also states that the reason the investigation took three years is partly a result of the IIO being under-resourced, but he adds that “if this had been the case of the on-duty death of a police officer, the needed expertise would have been available in days, not years.”
The family’s statement concludes with a concern about the scale of the manhunt launched by the RCMP in search of De Groot.
“The members of the Slocan community have other concerns about the militaristic response to a disabled person in their community that frightened many of the citizens. Of concern to members of the RCMP should be why a team on a ‘manhunt’ was dispatched into a wilderness area without the ability to communicate by radio for backup or medical assistance.
“The lack of such radios has been given as an excuse for the failure to secure the perimeter around the cabin and seeking Peter’s surrender, with or without the assistance of family members who were waiting nearby to assist in bringing about a peaceful resolution.”
In October 2016, Dana de Groot, Peter’s sister, launched a civil lawsuit against the RCMP. It has been held in abeyance until the completion of the IIO investigation and the family has provided no information on if or when it will be pursued.