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Inquiry finds fatal police shooting justified

CALGARY - A judge has decided Calgary police had no other option but to use lethal force to stop a dangerous car thief four years ago.

Provincial court Judge Sharon Van de Veen made no recommendations in her report, released Tuesday, following a fatality inquiry into the shooting death of Travis Oakes.

The 33-year-old man had been under surveillance for several hours by the police auto theft unit when officers cornered him in a southwest car wash.

Court heard officers had joked earlier on March 18, 2009 about wanting to get the job over with.

"Can we just shoot this guy already?'' said a message on the police computer system sent to all members of the undercover team following Oakes.

Police later apologized for the comment, and the police association and criminologists explained officers often use black humour to alleviate stress on the job.

Van de Veen did not refer to the joke in her report.

She wrote about how police had watched Oakes steal a car a day before and identified him as a suspect who had been "terrorizing" neighbourhoods and driving recklessly on city streets.

While he was under surveillance, police also suspected he was doing drugs in the stolen car. It was later confirmed in court that he had smoked crack cocaine.

Once police hemmed him inside the car wash, Oakes repeatedly tried to ram his way out. One officer was knocked to the ground. Another narrowly escaped injury.

A senior officer fired four bullets at the windshield of the stolen car, striking Oakes once in the head.

"The possibility of escaping the car wash bay presented an imminent threat to police and members of the public," wrote Van de Veen. "Mr. Oakes was using his car as a potentially lethal weapon."

The judge ruled out suggestions that police could have used other ways to stop Oakes.

She said expert evidence showed shooting out tires on the stolen car would not have stopped Oakes. Firing warning shots or shots to merely wound Oakes could have injured officers and would not have stopped the car.

"The evidence at the fatality inquiry supports the Calgary Police Service training and policy to shoot at the centre mass in circumstances where an imminent threat exists," wrote the judge.

"Nothing less, given time restrains and the dynamic nature of the situation, would have eliminated the threat Mr. Oakes' driving presented in time to protect police and the public."

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team previously investigated and determined the officer who killed Oakes should not be charged.

— By Chris Purdy in Edmonton

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