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IIO finds lethal force justified in shooting deaths of bank robbers; how the gunfight unfolded

B.C.’s police watchdog has cleared officers of any wrongdoing in the shooting deaths of two heavily-armed bank robbers at a Shelbourne Bank of Montreal branch in June.
Brothers Mathew Auchterlonie and Isaac Auchterlonie, 22, died in the bank robbery at a Shelbourne Street Bank of Montreal branch. Via RCMP

B.C.’s Independent Investigations Office has cleared police of any ­wrongdoing in the shooting deaths of two heavily armed bank robbers who fired on police in a bank parking lot on Shelbourne Street in June.

There are no reasonable grounds to believe any officer committed an offence in the June 28 incident at the Bank of Montreal branch, and the matter will not be referred to Crown counsel for charges, chief ­civilian director Ronald ­MacDonald wrote in his ­eight-page decision released Wednesday.

“Indeed, several officers showed remarkable ­courage under potentially deadly ­circumstances and should be commended for what they did to protect and then offer aid to their colleagues,” he wrote.

The report reveals for the first time how the incident involving Victoria police, ­Saanich police and members of the Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team unfolded at the Bank of Montreal that day.

Mathew and Isaac ­Auchterlonie, 22-year-old brothers from Shawnigan Lake, were killed in a shootout outside the bank. Six responding officers were shot, including three who were seriously injured. No one else was injured.

The brothers, who were part of a set of triplets, are identified in the IIO report only as Affected Person 1 (AP1) and Affected Person 2 (AP2).

The IIO investigation found the incident began just after 11 a.m. when the brothers drove into the parking lot. They left the trunk of their car slightly open and walked to the bank entrance. Both wore gloves and black balaclava-style masks. Olive-coloured body armour could be seen under their baggy windbreakers. Their lower legs were encased in rigid protection and they were wearing combat boots, said the report.

Each was armed with a 7.62 mm calibre SKS semi-automatic rifle with an extended magazine. AP1 had a large sheath knife hanging on the back of his belt and was carrying a large black bag. Upon entry, AP1 fired a single shot into the ceiling of the bank. The two men then ­corralled bank employees and customers, walking them to the area of the vault.

The robbers were only able to obtain a very limited amount of cash and appeared to be ­disappointed. They spent several minutes pacing and looking out windows into the parking lot. They did not attempt to escape, the report said.

Saanich police and members of the GVERT arrived in the area in response to the robbery report.

Sixteen minutes after they entered the bank, the robbers went to the front door, still carrying their rifles with the muzzles pointed down.

AP1 was in the lead, with AP2 several steps behind him.

They walked out into the parking lot, turning to the right in the direction of their parked car. At the same moment, the GVERT van carrying seven officers turned into the parking lot.

“A series of dramatic and ­violent events then occurred in the space of a few seconds,” says the report. AP2 was still close to the bank door, within view of the surveillance cameras. As the van pulled in, AP2 turned toward it and raised his rifle in the direction of the police vehicle. A GVERT member in the rear compartment pulled open the passenger sliding door and threw out a “flashbang” ­diversionary device. As the van braked to a halt, the side door momentarily slid forward, almost closing again, and was pulled open for a second time

“The stated intention of the GVERT members was to exit the van, to challenge the ­suspects and to arrest them­, and the [flashbang] was expected to ­distract or even stun them momentarily, ­making the arrest quicker and safer. ­Unfortunately, what transpired instead, almost simultaneously with the [flashbang] was a lethal exchange of gunfire,” the report said.

Despite its extensive ­investigation, the IIO does not know who fired first. One civilian witness told the IIO he thought AP2 fired first. “As soon as this van opened up, the slide, this guy starts shooting, this guy starts ­shooting the police and police were ­falling down and after that bang, bang […] it was just terrible,” he reported.

At that moment, AP2 stumbled back toward the vestibule window and the window ­shattered, apparently penetrated by a projectile coming from the direction of officers stationed at the south end of the parking lot

Three Saanich officers were stationed there and were joined by two GVERT members ­seconds after the shooting began. “It may well be that one of those officers took the first shot in response to AP2 raising his rifle in the direction of the GVERT van,” the report said. “In either event the interval between the first shot from the robber and the first shot from an officer appears to be very, very short.”

As soon as the slider was fully opened, GVERT officers, armed with rifles and preparing to get out of the van, were struck by bullets. One officer heard the “boom” of the flashbang, then another boom and more booms.

The officer was wounded in both legs and his arm and fell back into the van. The officer exiting the van ahead of him was able briefly to return fire but was now lying beside him on the floor, shot in the upper abdomen and thigh, “staring through me… and all he’s able to do is just exhale.” A third officer was shot in the shoulder.

The officer who had thrown the flashbang was the team medic and was only armed with a pistol. He stepped out of the van with the pistol “punched out” in both hands and took a position in front of his wounded colleagues, facing the incoming gunfire and shooting at their assailants. The officer who was driving fired at least 28 rounds from his pistol out through the windshield of the van before exiting through the driver’s door and continuing firing from beside a bush in the parking lot. He was hit in the foot by a ricochet from a police bullet.

Two GVERT officers who got out through the back door of the van were both wounded in the legs, said the report. One worked to fasten a tourniquet on the other’s badly bleeding leg while the shooting continued. The officer who was shot in the shoulder pulled himself half out of the vehicle through the rear doors.

Meanwhile, Saanich officers were running along the sidewalk from the north. Some shot at the gunmen. Others moved in quickly to help with first aid.

AP1 fired his rifle at the police van and was moving toward the parking lot when he was struck in the head by a police bullet and fell to the ground. AP2 was also firing at the van and the officers inside it. He was hit by several police bullets.

A witness told the IIO he saw AP2 staggering, but still firing his rifle, then falling. He was still trying to crawl. Officers were shouting at him: “Drop your weapon.” Investigators found out later that his rifle had been damaged and was not working. A Saanich police officer saw AP2 on the ground crawling toward his brother, whose gun was lying beside him. “And there was more firing from police at that time,” the report said.

Both gunmen were dead. Some of the wounded officers were taken to hospital in police vehicles because of security concerns for the paramedics.

A large cache of weapons, ammunition and improvised explosive devices were found in the trunk of the brothers’ car.

The IIO investigation found both gunmen fired all their rounds in the direction of the police van. Two of AP2’s bullets crossed Shelbourne Street, striking the window of a bistro. The other hit a drycleaners, lodging in a blanket on a shelf above the heads of staff and customers.

The autopsy found AP1 had three bullet wounds from police, while AP2 had nine. Their body armour stopped or deflected shots fired by police. It’s estimated police fired more than 100 rounds. The investigation concluded that all the officers were acting in lawful execution of their duty. The evidence showed clearly that AP2 reacted to the arrival of police by turning in their direction and raising his rifle, the report said.

“Whether he pulled the trigger at that exact moment, or not, he was a bank robber leaving the scene of a crime and he was pointing a high-powered assault rifle at police … [the bank robbers] posed a clear and imminent threat of death or grievous bodily harm to officers and to the public and the use of lethal force in response was justified.”

The IIO had to determine if police were justified in shooting AP2 after he fell to the ground and abandoned his damaged rifle. A surveillance video shows AP2 falling several seconds after the flashbang was thrown. Live rounds spilled from the broken magazine of his rifle. Then he crawled out of view, leaving the weapon on the ground behind him. The IIO found he was crawling towards his brother’s rifle and it was not known at that time if he had other weapons. Officers told the investigators that AP2 put his hands under his body armour, which might suggest he was reaching for a weapon.

“His prior actions provided significant support for a valid belief that he still posed a very real threat,” the report said. “The bottom line was that AP2 was a proven risk of significant lethal force who could not be easily stopped. It was more than reasonable for police to make sure he was never able to get to another high-powered rifle.”

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