Inquest into fatal RCMP shooting hears that man pretended to reach for weapon (Sask-Whitstone-Inquest)

BATTLEFORD, Sask. _ A coroner’s inquest into a fatal shooting of a driver by RCMP in Saskatchewan has heard that a passenger in the vehicle told investigators the man wanted to die and pretended to reach for a weapon.

Brydon Whitstone, 22, from Onion Lake Cree Nation, died after he was shot in October 2017 following a pursuit that RCMP say began when they got reports of a man being chased and shot at in North Battleford.

Regina Police Service Det. Sgt. Pierre Beauchesne, who was the lead investigator in the independent probe into the shooting, studied interviews with the RCMP constable involved as well as the female passenger in Whitstone’s vehicle, Amanda Wahobin.

Beauchesne testified on Monday that Wahobin said Whitstone wanted to die because he had said earlier he was unhappy with his life.

She said he pretended to reach for a weapon during the incident, although she said “he had nothing” and no weapon was found on Whitstone.

The independent investigation determined no criminal charges would be laid against the officer involved.

Beauchesne said the RCMP officer involved in the shooting at first said Whitstone reached down to his left side, then later said he reached to his right, contradicting himself.

The officer had drawn his firearm, and when he saw Whitstone appear to reach for what he thought was a weapon, he fired twice.

One bullet entered Whitstone’s abdomen and the other his chest cavity.

Sgt. Rob Zentner with the RCMP Major Crimes Unit in Saskatoon, whose team arrived the next day, testified Whitstone’s car had been boxed in by five police vehicles. The officers made many attempts to get the occupants out the vehicle, and he said police broke the driver’s side window of the car and ordered them out, but the two remained inside.

Eventually, he said Wahobin was removed.

Zentner said a live round was found inside Whitstone’s stomach as if he had swallowed it, and several other bullets were found on his clothing but no firearm.

Six jurors were selected for the inquest. They will rule on how Whitstone died and make recommendations on how to prevent deaths like his in the future.

Three of the jurors self-identify as Indigenous.

During an afternoon break in the proceedings Monday, Whitstone’s mother Dorothy Laboucane, wiped tears from her face.

Following Monday’s proceedings, Whitstone’s family legal counsel Stephanie Lavallee said while the Regina Police Service had investigated the fatal shooting, they are another police service, and that “nothing erodes public confidence and trust more than police investigating themselves.”

A retired RCMP officer who is now involved in training members to use police cruiser video recorders told the inquest that at the time of the incident, only three of 18 police cruisers were equipped with video cameras.

Only one camera captured a snippet of a video on the night of the incident but not of the shooting itself, Jeff Soroka testified.

Soroka said all cruisers now have the recorders installed.

The inquest will continue Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. and is expected to conclude Friday.

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