[Updated 2021-01-14 17:30 with Alberta Crown Prosecution Service statement]
On June 7, 2019, an officer with the Edmonton Police Service committed a negligent discharge of their service pistol at the William Nixon Training Centre but will not face criminal charges.
Crown prosecutors decided not to lay charges against the Edmonton police officer because it was not in the public interest.
“There is absolutely no doubt that a different decision would likely have been made had anyone sustained injury or died,” the ASIRT news release stated.
In essence, Crown prosecutors decided that because nobody was injured or killed, there was no need to press charges.
I take issue with that determination.
When a highly trained police officer ignores every rule of firearm safety, points a loaded firearm with live ammunition at another officer and intentionally pulls the trigger, it is in the public’s interest for that officer to face the consequences of their actions.
It’s distressing and problematic, to say the least, that the decision on whether to lay criminal charges against this police officer depends solely upon the outcome of his crime – on the fact nobody was hurt or killed.
Would a mere citizen who committed a similar negligent discharge be granted the same lenience?
Not a chance.
Alberta Crown Prosecution Service Statement:
“After review of this file, the responsible Crown prosecutor determined that this accidental discharge of a firearm did not meet the criminal threshold for prosecution.”
The Ugly Details
From the ASIRT press release about this negligent discharge:
As was noted earlier, officers in the bullpen were relaxed and approaching the end of their day. While the involved officer was on the firearms training side of the bullpen, another officer on the tactics training side popped up and pointed the SIRT pistol at the involved officer.
In the words of the tactics training officer, he “lasered” the involved officer, then popped back down behind the desks where he was out of sight.
Based on the scene examination and the evidence of the various officers present in the bullpen, the involved officer responded by raising a Glock pistol and pulling the trigger, resulting in the discharge of a single live round in the direction of the other officer’s desk on the tactics training side of the bullpen.
A metal pinging sound was heard as the round struck a battering ram that had been placed on top of the other officer’s desktop shelving unit.
Remarkably, the discharge of the firearm resulted in no injury to any of the many officers in the bullpen at the time.
The damage to the battering ram was significant and immediately evident.
The officer who committed the negligent discharge did not, as is their right, supply a statement to investigators from the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team.
This refusal “created an evidentiary gap regarding how and why the officer came to discharge a live round from a firearm.”
The evidence clearly established the physical discharge of the firearm in the direction of the tactics training side of the bullpen, towards the location of the officer who had “lasered” the involved officer and the desk he had popped down behind.
Firearms examination confirmed that the firearm was functioning properly and that the trigger pull required was within the normal range. In other words, this was not a situation where a firearm malfunctioned or had a hair trigger.
The involved officer deliberately pulled the trigger when he pointed and fired the firearm. There is, however, an evidentiary gap regarding what the officer’s intent was, what the officer was thinking in that moment, why the gun was fired.
The ASIRT press release goes on to say the subject officer’s intent and/or state of mind can best be described as follows (emphasis mine):
- The officer mistakenly raised the Glock pistol, believing it to be the SIRT training pistol, and pulled the trigger, resulting in the discharge of the firearm. As the SIRT pistol is designed with very significant and obvious differences to make it much less likely for an officer to make this mistake, this is unlikely, but given the context and the speed of the response, it cannot be completely eliminated as a possibility. As such, this remains an available inference as to the officer’s intent at the time of the discharge of the live round.
- The officer knowingly raised and fired his Glock pistol, mistakenly believing it to be unloaded, or loaded with simunition (simulated non-lethal ammunition used for training purposes) and pulled the trigger, resulting in the discharge of the live round.
- The officer knowingly pulled the Glock pistol and intentionally fired the gun in the direction of the other officer(s) in the Tactics Training Section. With this possibility, one would need to assess whether the gun was fired at the other officer with malice, or whether it was fired not at the officer but in that direction, either as a joke or with the intent of “scaring” the officer.
While all three scenarios could result in serious criminal offences, the first two scenarios imply there was no intent to cause harm. The subject officer’s actions were negligent but without intention.
The third scenario “would constitute the highest level of both moral and legal culpability. Intentionally firing a gun at another person, or even in the presence of other persons in an enclosed room in these circumstances, could constitute any number of offences, from careless use of a firearm up to and including attempted murder.”
A police officer, particularly a member of the Firearms Training Section, should be held to the highest standard of safe handling of firearms.
At best, the involved officer’s handling and use of the firearm fell far short of the specific and rigorous duty of care expected and established by Parliament.
“That no one was injured or killed was nothing short of exceptional good fortune.”
The evidence clearly provided reasonable grounds to believe a criminal offence occurred and, as required by the Police Act, the issue was forwarded to the Alberta Criminal Prosecution Service.
ASIRT’s job is to determine of an offence occurred and, if so, turn the matter over to Crown prosecutors.
The Crown’s job is to determine if there is a reasonable likelihood of conviction and, if so, to determine of the prosecution is in the public interest.
The Crown declined to prosecute, saying it was not in the public interest to do so, even though the likelihood of securing a conviction was high.
The ASIRT report explains the decision this way:
The fact that the officer will not face criminal prosecution does not mean that the officer’s conduct was not viewed as serious or deserving of some form of sanction.
It was the Crown’s opinion that the public interest did not require the full weight of the criminal law be brought to bear in the circumstances of this case.
While there will be no criminal prosecution, it is reiterated that the evidence in this case established, at a minimum, an extremely serious lapse in judgment and carelessness in the handling of a firearm.
There is absolutely no doubt that a different decision would likely have been made had anyone sustained injury or died.
As I said earlier in this commentary, it’s deeply distressing that the decision on whether to lay criminal charges against this police officer depends solely upon the outcome of his crime – on the fact nobody was hurt or killed.
Would a mere citizen who committed a similar negligent discharge be granted the same lenience?
Not a chance.
Graeme Nesbitt says
What would happen to an ordinary citizen who “accidentally” discharged a firearm that they were pointing at an individual? This should be at the very least careless use of a firearm and loss of job. Police are supposed to held to a higher standard.
Christopher di Armani says
A mere citizen would face charges of attempted murder along with a raft of firearm charges. There is also an internal police investigation underway which will likely result in a week or two of docked pay.
I have zero doubt the guy is genuinely remorseful, ashamed and feels like an idiot for almost killing a fellow cop but… people go to prison all the time for the stupid acts they commit in a single second.
peter bolten says
Amazing and stunning!!!! Just unbelievable.
For sure any of us would have received a big bad punishment in that situation. I can’t understand why two cops playing “whack a mole” didn’t get into more trouble over this childish stupid behaviour.
I remember a number of years ago outside Victoria in the Goldstream Hills some guy ditched a stolen vehicle and a group of heavily armed police went in search of him in dense crappy bush, and while ploughing along one of them had his carbine Not On Safe and the trigger caught a twig and a fellow officer was wounded and paralyzed. Never heard what the outcome of that ‘friendly fire’ was. It was negligence in my opinion.
Always be on safe and in a safe direction.
Clive Edwards says
Let’s see…. Never point a firearm at anything you don’t want to destroy….. Keep your finger off the trigger until you have identified your target and do indeed wish to destroy it….Know what is beyond your intended target and take that into consideration. Oh, yeah – always assume the firearm is loaded (you may press-check to confirm, but you still might be mistaken),
Knowing how to shoot is only a small part of the journey. Range Safety Officer training for multiple disciplines is really the gold standard. NRA range safety officer, IPSC range safety officer, IDPA range safety officer. Good fish and game clubs also offer range safety officer training and require someone certified as such to be on the range at all times it is in use. The same goes for trap and skeet clubs. No one under the influence of alcohol or other drugs can be permitted on any range where firearms may be present. The same needs to be said about firearms in the home.
Colin Murphy says
In my 50 + years of target shooting at various ranges, I never had nor witnessed a ND. I have however read of many police ND’s, some fatal. In this case, it is very questionable if this was intentional rather than negligent. Having shared the firing line with a few police officers and many ex military I often witnessed them committing some very concerning firearms safety breeches and I really question the term “highly trained police officer”.
This officer should not be training others and is likely best suited to a desk job.
Dale Townsend says
This whole article is utterly fascinating. The Alberta Crown Prosecution Service has made a determination whether to proceed based on a non-legal assessment. Since no harm to the individual at risk came about no charge will be laid. There is a possibility raised of a frightful wigging but event that is not certain. May I raise this as a reason not to charge me should I run a red light, for example, or other such without injury or damage?
Military + N/D WILL EQUAL charge & min $1000 fine. If someone injured or killed well knock on wood I never saw that happen but I’m sure it would be some time behind bars in Edmonton and early retirement from service!
Arie Intveld says
This must be an example of that “toxic masculinity” which Fidelito made reference to some time ago.
Not in the public interest? Is the Alberta Crown Prosecutor the sole arbiter of what is, or isn’t, in the public interest? Does “the public” have any say in the matter?
If the Alberta Crown Prosecutor’s position were to be consistent for each and every victimless crime, then EVERYONE, with whatever they are doing or not doing, should be golden until there is an actual physical injury or fatality commissioned with a firearm. Lapsed PAL or RPAL? No victim; not in the public interest; no problem. Possession of a prohibited firearm? No victim; not in the public interest; no problem. Open carry a Condition 1 H&K G3 in the Danforth? No victim; not in the public interest; no problem.
The crux of the matter is that we do not have a JUSTICE system. We have a multi-tiered LEGAL system where “some” are more equal than “others”, as they are trotted through this legal system. Bonus … if you wear the approved, government-issued business suits with lapel pins, the approved, government-issued pajamas and shoulder flashes, or uphold the government-approved ideology, it assures you being able to bypass this legal system.
Welcome to benevolent, virtuous, progressive socialism … the precursor to life and soul-sucking communism. You will be assessed to be only as “law-abiding” as your government says you are.
How’s everyone feeling about our convicted eco-terrorist, Steven Guilbeault, asserting his role as the head of Canada’s Heritage Ministry of Truth?
THAT BLOODY SAD EXCUSE FOR A POLICE OFFICER SHOULD HAVE BEEN CHARGED AND FIRED ASAP.IF A CIVILIAN WERE TO HAVE DONE THE SAME THING…..THEY WOULD ALREADY BE IN JAIL.OBVIOUSLY THE “POLICE OFFICERS” JUDGEMENT IS SERIOUSLY IMPAIRED TO HAVE DONE SOMETHING AS STUPID AND DANGEROUS AS THAT!