Officer had no options to avoid shooting Kinngait man in 2020: expert

Jury breaks for deliberations in coroner’s inquest examining death of Attachie Ashoona

The officer who fatally shot Kinngait man Attachie Ashoona in 2020 didn’t have other viable options when he walked toward her with a knife, a police use-of-force expert testified at a coroner’s inquest on Thursday. (File photo)

By Madalyn Howitt

This story was updated on Monday, Feb. 12, 2024, at 10:35 a.m. ET.

An expert in use of force says the police officer who fatally shot a Kinngait man in 2020 had no other viable options to stop him as he approached her wielding a knife.

Attachie Ashoona died Feb. 26, 2020, after being shot in the chest by RCMP Cpl. Jaimie Methven, one of two officers who responded that night to multiple reports of a domestic assault.

The shooting occurred inside the home of Ashoona’s father. An inquest examining the circumstances surrounding Ashoona’s death began Monday.

Methven testified earlier that she had “no other option” but to shoot the 38-year-old man after he ignored commands to drop the knife he was holding and walked toward her saying, “Just shoot me, I’m going to kill you.”

On Thursday, coroner’s counsel Sheldon Toner asked Brad Fawcett, a use-of-force instructor and retired sergeant with the Vancouver Police Department, if using one of the other tools Methven had with her — such as pepper spray, a baton or a Taser — was viable in this circumstance.

“Pepper spray only has an effective range of three to 10 feet, and it tends not to work particularly well on somebody who is intoxicated with drugs and alcohol, it tends not to work particularly well if somebody’s suffering from a mental illness or is disorientated,” Fawcett said.

To use a baton effectively, the officer has to get within about 50 centimetres of the target — “close enough to be stabbed,” he said.

And a Taser, or conducted energy weapon, has limited range.

“If your maximum effective rate is 25 feet, then that person is already less than two seconds away,” Fawcett said.

“Weather can affect the batteries, the clothing that a person’s wearing can impact on its effectiveness, the amount of dust in the air, if a person is wearing a down-filled jacket with a lot of air in it,” he said.

“So if your life’s in jeopardy, you tend not to look at the interventions that have a 15, 30, 40 per cent failure. You tend to use the force option that is most likely to preserve your own life, and in most cases that’s going to be a sidearm,” Fawcett said.

Toner then asked if firing a warning shot instead of shooting Ashoona directly would have been an appropriate alternative.

“Firing warning shots in a house is almost never an appropriate thing to do,” Fawcett said.

“Bullets can punch through almost any kind of surface.”

Methven said she fired two shots at Ashoona, one into his chest and another that went into the wall behind him. Toner asked if it was appropriate for Methven to fire more than one shot.

Fawcett said that in firearms training, officers are typically trained to do strings of fire, like firing three shots in three seconds to make a precise shot.

Toner also asked if officers are expected to fight back before reaching the point of shooting someone.

“The short answer is no,” Fawcett said.

Witness testimonies concluded Thursday and Toner and RCMP counsel Donna Keats offered closing arguments.

“In this case, things unfolded very quickly,” Toner said. “Officers were not left with a lot of options, given their training.”

Toner submitted the cause of death was homicide, meaning simply that Ashoona’s death was caused by another person.

Keats contended the cause of death was suicide, noting Ashoona had repeatedly told Methven, “Just shoot me.”

Toner disagreed, saying meeting the threshold of suicide requires clear, compelling evidence.

That Ashoona was intoxicated and saying, “Just shoot me, I’m going to kill you,” to the officer was more likely an impulsive statement.

“He was fairly angry and just had a fight with his girlfriend and father, and was in all probability charged and emotionally reacting to what had happened,” Toner said.

The lawyers offered recommendations to the jury on how deaths under similar circumstances can be avoided in the future.

Toner suggested recommending all Nunavut RCMP officers receive regular mandatory trauma response training in addition to first aid, and that all detachments and police vehicles in Nunavut be equipped with proper first aid kits.

He also said the jury could consider recommending all officers be equipped with functioning body cameras and that the RCMP equip and train officers on the use of hand-held ballistics shields.

Toner suggested that had the officers who approached Ashoona been aware that he had a knife, they might have been able to use a ballistics shield — a tool Nunavut officers currently are not equipped with — to protect themselves, instead of a firearm.

Toner also suggested the RCMP continue mandatory orientation programs that cover Nunavut culture, language and community, which the service introduced in recent years.

The jury broke for deliberations and is expected to return its verdict late Thursday or on Friday.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Cpl. Jaimie Methven’s name.

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(2) Comments:

  1. Posted by Marksman on

    At that range, since he was that close, officer could’ve aimed and shot to incapacitate, instead of exterminate.

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