By James Keller, The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER – The sister of a British Columbia man who was shot by the RCMP after a manhunt says the force should have found a way to end the ordeal peacefully, but instead she says police wrote him off as a violent misfit and shot him in what amounted to an execution.
Peter de Groot, 45, was killed last week, several days after he disappeared into the bush following a confrontation with the police in the small community of Slocan, in southeastern B.C.
When the manhunt began, the RCMP alleged de Groot shot at officers before fleeing into the woods near his property. The force told the media de Groot was known to police and should be considered armed and dangerous.
But the man’s sister, Danna de Groot, whose family held a news conference Monday in Vancouver, said her brother had no history of violence or run-ins with the law.
Instead, she said he was a gifted scholar who planned on pursuing a PhD before a brain aneurysm more than a decade ago left him in pain and with poor co-ordination. He eventually returned to his love of the outdoors, moving to rural British Columbia and living a homesteading life of farming.
“He was, very simply, the most knowledgeable and intelligent person that I’ve ever known,” she said as she condemned what she described as an attempt by RCMP to malign her brother’s character.
Danna de Groot sat next to her siblings and her father as she read a statement that detailed her experience travelling to Slocan on Thanksgiving weekend. She also explained what she knew about how her brother’s confrontation with police began, though it wasn’t clear where that information came from.
She was not in Slocan when the manhunt began and she did not witness the fatal shooting, though she and another brother did travel to the community when they heard about the manhunt.
She said the RCMP overreacted and escalated the situation at every turn, and then refused the family’s repeated offers to help police find de Groot and talk him down.
Specifically, she questioned why the officers from the RCMP’s emergency response team who found de Groot in a remote cabin didn’t wait for a chance to bring his family to help negotiate a peaceful ending.
“We were right there asking (to talk to him) and he was executed instead of letting his family know he’d been found,” she said.
Danna de Groot said she was in a Slocan-area cafe last Monday morning sending family members text updates when she saw her brother Miles, who had flown out from Ontario, outside “freaking out. She went outside and learned the police had found de Groot in a cabin and that he was dead.
She said an RCMP officer who was also outside the cafe told her emergency response team officers “had gone to the cabin where he’d been spotted, three officers had opened the door to the cabin, and that Peter was on his front with a gun pointed at them and they killed him.”
“Why was my repeated request to talk to Peter ignored and our efforts disregarded?” she said. “Why was it too much trouble to get us to help to preserve the life of our vulnerable brother and prevent the killing from happening.”
The RCMP declined to comment on the family’s allegations.
Danna de Groot said the family believes the troubles started the morning of Oct. 9, when someone called police and claimed to have been shoved by de Groot.
She said three RCMP officers arrived to arrest de Groot for the assault, barracading the street with their cruisers and standing behind their vehicles with their guns drawn. She said de Groot owned guns, which she said is not out of the ordinary for someone operating a rural farm.
“They did not approach him in a reasonable manner to ask what happened,” she said.
She said when she heard about the search for her brother, she offered to drive to Slocan but was told not to by the RCMP. She went anyway, driving 10 hours from her home in Vancouver, she said.
As the weekend unfolded, she said she offered several times to search the woods for her brother or to talk to him if the RCMP were able to locate him.
At one point, de Groot’s family provided the RCMP with a statement they wanted sent to the media, but it was never distributed, she said.
Danna de Groot said the family would consider a potential lawsuit over what she described as her brother’s “wrongful death.” She said the family also hopes a coroner’s inquest, which is mandatory for deaths in police custody, prompts changes to how police respond to such situations.
The RCMP and the Independent Investigators Office, which handles allegations against the police in B.C., have said very little about what happened when de Groot was shot.
The RCMP have only said two members of the force’s emergency response team were searching a cabin when there was an “interaction” between de Groot and the officers.
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