WARNING: This story contains graphic details.
The Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia (IIO) has cleared members of the Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team (GVERT) and the Saanich Police Department involved in the deaths of two bank robbery suspects.
Brothers Mathew and Isaac Auchterlonie were killed on June 28 during a shootout that left six officers wounded at the Saanich Bank of Montreal location on Shelbourne Street.
The IIO is a civilian-led police oversight agency responsible for conducting investigations into police-involved incidents that result in death or serious harm. In his 10-page decision dated Dec. 21, IIO chief civilian director Ronald MacDonald outlined some of the events from that day.
While he said IIO investigators gathered an extensive body of evidence, the report did not disclose all evidence or analysis, citing the protection of police tactics and procedures.
The 22-year-old Duncan brothers are referred to as “affected persons” throughout the report and are not named.
They pulled their vehicle into the parking lot of the plaza just after 11 a.m. on June 28, according to the report. Leaving the car’s trunk slightly open, the pair – dressed in olive-coloured body armour with gloves and black balaclava-style masks – were armed with 7.62 mm calibre SKS semi-automatic rifles with extended magazines. One also had a large sheath knife hanging from the back of his belt.
The pair entered the bank with one of the brothers firing a single shot into the ceiling. The events inside the bank were captured on video but with no audio. They corralled bank employees and customers and appeared disappointed when they were only able to obtain a limited amount of cash.
The brothers did not exit the bank right away but spent several minutes pacing and looking through the window into the parking lot.
During that time, police received several 911 calls.
More than 16 minutes after entering the bank, the brothers exited while still carrying their rifles. At the same moment, an unmarked police van carrying seven GVERT members turned into the parking lot.
Before attempting to exit the vehicle, the report stated officers deployed a flashbang device, intending to surprise the suspects in order to make their arrest easier and safer.
IIO investigators were unable to determine definitively who fired first but gunfire ensued immediately.
One GVERT officer who was shot in both legs and one arm said “it was almost like a continuation right with that was another boom, and then just more boom, boom, boom.” He noted the gunfire was close range, stating he could feel the “percussion” of the bullets.
He was shot and fell back into the van.
The officer exiting the van in front of him was briefly able to return fire but was also shot – in the upper abdomen and thigh – and was now laying beside him on the floor of the van.
At the same time, a third officer at the back of the van shouted he had been shot in the neck and suffered a severe shoulder wound.
The officer who threw the flashbang device was the team’s medic and was only armed with a pistol. He stepped out of the van and took a position in front of his injured colleagues, facing incoming gunfire while shooting at the suspects.
The driver of the van was a sergeant leading the team, he fired at least 28 rounds from his pistol through the windshield before exiting the van and continuing to fire from beside a bush in the parking lot. He was hit in the foot by a ricochet from a police bullet.
The two other members of the team exited the van from the rear and both were wounded in the legs. One worked to fasten a tourniquet on the other’s badly bleeding leg while the shooting continued.
Meanwhile, members of the Saanich Police Department were running towards the scene. Some engaged with the suspects while others moved to help injured officers.
One of the brothers was struck in the head by a police round and fell to the ground.
The other was hit by several police bullets before falling, damaging his weapon so it was unable to fire. A civilian eyewitness told the IIO he was still trying to crawl once on the ground. It is unclear if he was attempting to crawl to his brother and his brother’s weapon or the suspects’ vehicle which had more weapons and improvised explosive devices.
Both brothers were dead when police got to them.
“It is estimated that altogether, police fired just over 100 rounds, which is not surprising given the circumstances and that many officers were firing rounds during the incident,” the report stated. “Given this, the number of wounds suffered by each (affected person) was relatively low, a likely testament to the effectiveness of their body armour,” the report stated.
No civilians in the area were injured, but the report found that bullets from the suspects’ guns hit the window of a bistro across the street and another travelled into a dry cleaning business, nearly missing customers and staff.
The IIO’s investigation found that officers reacted within the law and that the suspects “posed a clear and imminent threat of deadly or grievous bodily harm to officers and the public.”
The report stated, “when those affected persons offered lethal force or the imminent threat of it, the officers were justified in using lethal force in response.”
In a separate statement, Saanich Police Chief Dean Duthie said he was grateful for the work of the responding officers and the investigation.
“They put their own lives on the line to save lives, protect innocent people, and restore peace and safety in our community,” Duthie said in the statement. “Oversight by the IIO is a vital part of police accountability and transparency, which is very important to earn and maintain the public’s trust and confidence.”
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