Shooting was ‘safest way’ to deal with threat, say officers
Jeremy Nuvviaq, 39, died after RCMP officers were called to his home in 2017
Updated: Wednesday, March 2, 2022 at 9:30 p.m.
Shooting Jeremy Nuvviaq was “the safest way for us to deal with the situation,” according to the RCMP officer who fired the shot that killed the 39-year-old man who had been threatening “suicide by cop” on Facebook and confronted police with what looked like a rifle.
Const. Stephen Currie was one of the witnesses who testified Tuesday during the second day of an inquest into the 2017 death of Nuvviaq, an Inuk man in Sanirajak. He was one of two police officers who responded to a call at Nuvviaq’s home on May 1, 2017.
Earlier that evening, Nuvviaq had been livestreaming from his Facebook page when he threatened “suicide by cop” and held what appeared to be a toy gun, according to witnesses who saw the video.
“Suicide by cop” refers to when a person wants to die but wants someone else to kill them, so they create a situation in which a police officer is forced to shoot them.
On Monday, witnesses testified that Nuvviaq had been drinking and behaving aggressively in the hours before his death, and had also made posts on Facebook referring to suicide.
Currie and Const. Reg Campbell were on duty that evening when a call came through from RCMP dispatch that Jeremy Nuvviaq had a gun. Dispatch advised the officers the caller was either intoxicated or had a speech impediment, Currie testified.
When they arrived at the detachment, Currie said they received another call, this time from Jason Dawson, Nuvviaq’s former manager, who was watching the livestream and heard Nuvviaq speaking about “suicide by cop.”
“He also mentioned that it appeared Jeremy was holding a gun underneath a towel or blanket and it appeared there was a yellow stock on it,” Currie said.
As Currie spoke with Dawson, Campbell looked up Nuvviaq in the police computer system. He learned Nuvviaq was on probation and prohibited from having firearms,” Campbell testified.
Currie, who had lived in the Sanirajak for several years and knew Nuvviaq socially, told him that Nuvviaq could be “unpredictable,” especially after drinking, Campbell said.
The officers transferred Dawson to the dispatch officer, put on hard body armour and brought their carbines as they set off for Nuvviaq’s residence. Currie said he tried calling Nuvviaq directly several times but no one picked up the phone.
As the officers arrived at Nuvviaq’s home, dispatch told them another phone call had come through, this one from someone speaking in a low voice and claiming that Nuvviaq was holding a gun to someone’s head.
Campbell said he then asked the dispatch officer to relay what Dawson, who was still on the line, was seeing on the Facebook livestream. Dawson told them he couldn’t see anyone other than Nuvviaq in the residence, and that he was “walking around with a cordless telephone,” as well as the firearm covered by a towel, Campbell testified.
The officers determined Nuvviaq was likely alone in the house and he was the person who had called the police.
“At that point, we felt that it was Jeremy trying to force us to barge into the house,” Currie said.
Currie said he and Campbell positioned themselves about 50 metres outside of the residence when Nuvviaq stepped outside carrying what Campbell described as a long-barrelled weapon with a pistol grip.
“Right away Jeremy began yelling and holding the gun up in the air saying ‘shoot me, shoot me’ yelling at us to shoot him,” Campbell said. The officers then walked closer as Currie attempted to de-escalate the situation and told Nuvviaq to drop his gun, he said.
Campbell said Nuvviaq then held his gun “just under his arm” and pointed it toward the officers “a number of times” before briefly turning around and walking back up the stairs and out of the officers’ sight.
When Nuvviaq came back, he pointed the firearm towards the officers again and said “Stephen, I have you in my sights,” Currie said.
“I feared for my life,” Currie said. He then fired one bullet, hitting Nuvviaq in the torso.
The officers then brought Nuvviaq to the health care centre where doctors tried to resuscitate him after he went into cardiac arrest caused by excessive bleeding. Nuvviaq died soon after from his injuries.
When asked why the officers didn’t just leave Nuvviaq to calm down, knowing that he likely wanted to provoke a dangerous situation, Currie said “stopping the threat” was their priority.
“We knew he wasn’t in a proper state of mind, he wasn’t thinking. He was trying to force us to act in a certain way, and whether this was going to turn into a hostage situation or something like that if we left, we don’t know where he’s at,” Currie said.
“The community’s not safe at that point. We don’t know if he’s going to go out and harm someone in the community, shoot someone in the community, try to kill somebody.”
When asked why they hadn’t considered using a taser to stop Nuvviaq, Currie said they weren’t close enough for it to be effective.
Currie said after shooting Nuvviaq, he checked the victim’s firearm and noticed it was “a pellet gun or an airsoft gun, but appeared to be a real functioning firearm.”
Airsoft guns are replica guns used for airsoft sports and recreation. They are often designed to look like real guns but sometimes have yellow or orange muzzle tips.
Mental health professionals and experts in use-of-force will give testimonies later this week. The four-day inquest is expected to conclude Thursday with the jury issuing a verdict on the facts of the case and offering recommendations to prevent similar deaths from happening.
Resources for people in distress who need to talk to someone
Kamatsiaqtut Help Line is Nunavut-specific and offers services in Inuktitut. Phone: 979-3333 for Iqaluit residents and 1-800-265-3333 for other Nunavummiut.
The First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Helpline: 1-855-242-3310 or chat online at hopeforwellness.ca.
Clarification: This article was updated from a previous version to clarify that Jeremy Nuvviaq confronted police outside his home with what looked like a rifle or long-barrelled firearm.