BC police watchdog orders investigation review
VANCOUVER - British Columbia's police watchdog has appointed its own watchdog to review the agency's handling of its very first case — the probe into the RCMP shooting death of former soldier Greg Matters.
Richard Rosenthal, the chief civilian director of the Independent Investigations Office, announced Monday that Vancouver lawyer Mark Jette will conduct an administrative review of the agency investigation.
The announcement follows the release last week of a supplemental report into the death of Matters, who was being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder in September 2012 when he was shot at the home he shared with his mother near Prince George, B.C.
The watchdog's first report in April 2013 cleared the officers of criminal wrongdoing. That report said Matters was shot in the chest but a pathologist testified later at a coroner's inquest that Matters was shot in the back.
The revelation sparked anger for Matters' family members and raised questions about the investigation that cleared RCMP.
The supplemental report released by the agency on Friday blamed the discrepancy on an unclear use of language in the original agency report but upheld the earlier finding that the officers committed no criminal wrongdoing.
The agency declined an interview but Rosenthal said in a news release that he received a complaint, forwarded to him by the deputy attorney general.
"After my review of this complaint, I made the decision to appoint Mr. Mark Jette as a civilian monitor," he said. "The appointment of a civilian monitor is a step contemplated by the Police Act to provide an extra measure of accountability where it is in the public interest to do so."
Rosenthal said the appointment is not a reopening of the investigation into Matters' death. Jette will review the investigation, not the original shooting, and submit his report to the province's deputy attorney general and director of police services.
Matters' sister, Tracey Matters, said in an interview from Australia that her family has been calling for such a review since the first report came out in 2013. She said she was surprised by Monday's announcement and thanked the individual or group who filed the complaint to the provincial government.
Tracey Matters said the family was clear right from the start that there were discrepancies in the report.
"I guess most importantly, we would like to see a reconstruction and a re-enactment based on the physical evidence provided at the coroner's inquest," she said. "We're hoping that an independent review of the process will do that for us so that we truly know what happened on that awful day."
Josh Paterson, executive director of the BC Civil Liberties Association, said he was surprised by the development because the agency had said it was not going to appoint a civilian monitor.
"We do think that it's in the interest of public confidence that when a big, kind of, error like that happens on a really big case and, indeed, the first case that they've ever taken on, that it's a useful thing to have someone independent come in, take a look," said Paterson.
"It will be good for the IIO, good for the public, good for the police, good for the families to truly understand the process that was used in this investigation and to learn whether there are any improvements to that investigative process that can be applied in future investigations."
Paterson said his association had written the watchdog and copied the attorney general, but he didn't know the basis of the actual complaint sent to Rosenthal.
Greg Matters was shot in the back by a member of the RCMP emergency response team on Sept. 10, 2012. He was being arrested for assaulting his older brother during a dispute in the early morning hours the day before.
The inquest heard last month that the 40-year-old former peacekeeper was honourably discharged from the military in 2009 after a 15-year career, already exhibiting signs of PTSD.
The jury also heard that Matters was unable to work due to his mental health struggles and a back injury suffered in Bosnia in 2001. He was living with his mother and surviving on a $123-a-month military pension when his sister, from her home in Australia, finally contacted an operational stress injury clinic in Vancouver that took him as a client.
Officers testified they had no choice but to shoot because Matters was brandishing a hatchet.
Amendments to B.C.'s Police Act created the Independent Investigations Office in July 2011, and the agency was tasked with conducting criminal investigations into police incidents that resulted in death or serious harm. The Matters shooting was its first case.