The sister of a man shot and killed by police following a manhunt in Slocan in 2014 is suing the federal and provincial governments over the RCMP’s handling of the incident.
Danna de Groot’s lawsuit filed in BC Supreme Court last week states that police actions were “militaristic and aggressive” and that “there were no efforts at de-escalation” even though the police knew Peter de Groot suffered from a cognitive disability.
She also states that the RCMP repeatedly “rejected the involvement of the family or others to attempt a more appropriate approach to resolve the matter.”
Danna de Groot’s notice of claim states that Peter de Groot suffered from a cognitive disability following brain aneurysms in 1987 and 1994.
Prior to 1994, he was a “well-educated, high functioning person” who had completed a BA and an MA in policital science and been accepted into a PhD program at Purdue University. After 1994, unable to continue his education, he began a simple lifestyle looking after animals on a property near Slocan.
The notice states that “Peter’s disability and its effect on his cognitive abilities could be misinterpreted by people not familiar with the medical condition…”
Conflicts with a neighbour
The notice of claim states that de Groot and a neighbour had conflicts over de Groot’s livestock and that the neighbour convinced RCMP to attempt, on October 9, 2014, to evict de Groot from the property even though the neighbour did not own the property. The notice also states that the neighbour also told the police that de Groot had assaulted him.
The outline of circumstances in the notice of claim shows a lack of clarity about whether the RCMP were trying to evict de Groot, arrest him for assault, or seize his legally-owned firearm.
Police records state that de Groot shot the window out of a police car and that that was the first shot fired. Other witnesses stated in the claim that the police fired the first shot.
A manhunt begins
In any event, those shots triggered a manhunt after de Groot then ran into the woods with a rifle.
Danna de Groot attempted over the following days to convince the RCMP to let her come to Slocan and help them find her brother because he trusted her and would follow her lead. They refused. She states that she also had a difficult time convincing the RCMP that her brother’s condition was a result of a brain injury, not schizophrenia as the police database said. She also tried to correct erroneous reports in the media, perhaps provided by the RCMP, that her brother was an experienced military marksman, when in fact he had never served in the military.
The police response in Slocan was massive, including dozens of officers, air support, dogs, a tactical armoured vehicle, 10 other vehicles, an ambulance, camouflaged and plainclothes officers, a school lock-down, and an order preventing residents from entering the town by vehicle.
Peter deGroot was shot dead by RCMP officers on October 13, 2014, in a remote cabin about three kilometres from Slocan. The RCMP has stated that de Groot was spotted at the cabin, three officers opened the door to the cabin, de Groot was lying on the floor with a gun pointed at police, one or more officers shot at him, and he died on the scene.
Danna de Groot claims that there was no attempt by the RCMP to wait out the situation given that the cabin was in a remote forested area and there was no danger to the public, there was no attempt by the RCMP to secure the perimeter around the cabin and give de Groot a warning or opportunity to surrender, no attempt to de-escalate the situation before a forced entry to the cabin, and that she was refused the opportunity to talk her brother out of the situation.
She alleges that the “militaristic and aggressive demeanor of many of the police officers was exacerbated by references by police officers in attendance and RCMP communications to the public and media comparing the events in Slocan to the to the June 2014 shooting of five RCMP officers (three fatally) in Moncton, New Brunswick, even though the facts and circumstances were entirely different.”
Although individual officers are not named as parties to the lawsuit, the notice of claim states, “The conduct of the RCMP members who confronted Peter in the cabin in which he was killed, was malicious, wilful, and grossly negligent such that they are personally liable.”
According to the claim, Danna de Groot has been unable to learn the names of the officers involved.
Independent investigation takes two years
Following de Groot’s death, an investigation was launched by the provincial Internal Investigations Office (IIO), whose role is to conduct independent investigations into any incident in which a person is killed by police.
Contacted by the Star, Aidan Buckley of the IIO wrote in an email that the investigation is complete but must now undergo an internal review process in which the director will decide whether one or more officers committed an offence. If they did, the matter will be referred to Crown counsel for consideration of charges. If the director finds they did not, the director will write a detailed report that will be available on the IIO website.
Asked why it has taken the IIO two years to complete this work, Buckley wrote, “This incident is one of the most complex cases the IIO is investigating. It involves a number of scenes, a remote location, limited civilian witnesses and lack of video footage. In light of all of these factors, we are utterly reliant on a scientific reconstruction of the scene. This analysis is extraordinarily complex and has been undertaken by an external scientific expert. This is in addition to a number of significant reports carried out by forensic experts.
“One hundred and eighty-four investigative tasks have been completed in this file and a large number of documents have been reviewed.” Buckle continued. “This includes the notes of nearly one hundred officers who were involved in the totality of this incident. The review of these documents and notes take a considerable amount of time. As with all of our cases, there is a chance that this case may end up in court so it’s vital that all of the investigative material can withstand scrutiny from the highest court.”
None of the allegations in Danna de Groot’s notice of claim have been proven in court. The RCMP has not yet filed a response to the claim.