EDMONTON — Alberta's police watchdog says two RCMP officers were justified when they shot and killed a man who was on a rampage with a stolen front-end loader and tried to use the massive machine to crush a police car with an officer inside against a tree.
"Operating this front-end loader in the manner he did resulted in it becoming a weaponized 35,000-pound blunt instrument that was much more difficult for officers to stop or contain than any other standard vehicle," Susan Hughson, executive director of the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, said Monday.
"The man also attempted to lower the bucket of the front-end loader down onto the roof of the vehicle but was unable to do so because the bucket got wedged ... in the tree."
The unidentified 37-year-old man who died Dec. 25, 2015, in Red Deer, Alta., was wanted on suspicion of sex assault and attempted murder.
The watchdog's report says the officers stopped firing after the loader began rolling into a nearby field and turning in circles. Officers in a four-by-four drove beside it and saw the suspect slumped motionless on the floor of the cab.
They hoped to get medical help for the man and fired at the loader's tires to stop it, but the rubber was too thick and the bullets bounced off.
The loader eventually straightened out, drove towards trees and then stopped.
An autopsy found the man died of multiple gunshot wounds to his torso, Hughson said. It also found he had methamphetamine and amphetamine in his blood.
The report says police were told the man had allegedly committed several violent crimes at a home he shared with his common-law wife that Christmas morning. Police learned that he might be in a stolen truck, which they found, but an officer who stopped it was injured when it rammed his cruiser without warning.
That afternoon, police received a 911 call from residents in a rural home who said a man they knew had shown up with a story that he'd rammed a police vehicle. He asked for money, a cellphone and keys.
The investigation found he became mad when they wouldn't help him. He returned to the stolen truck and smashed it into the house and into a snowmobile before driving away.
The truck was found abandoned in an industrial park. That's where the suspect got into the front-end loader, drove over a fence into a parking lot and began ramming and flipping vehicles.
When he saw two officers attempting to set up a spikebelt to stop him, the report says he drove directly at them.
While the officers were trying to reposition their cruisers, one of the cars ended up directly in the loader's path. That's when the machine pinned the car against the tree.
"It is important to note that the officers did not directly engage the man. Instead, it was the man who escalated the incident by attacking the officers," Hughson said.
"The force used was necessary and reasonable in all the circumstances notwithstanding the tragic outcome."
The investigation was delayed by a glitch which meant investigators didn't get the autopsy report until May of this year, Hughson said. She added there has since been a change in leadership in the chief medical examiner's office, and she is satisfied similar delays won't happen again.
Rob Drinkwater, The Canadian Press