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Compassion spared Kelowna man death by cop

November 20, 2015 - 11:30 AM

“HE WOULD PUT THE REVOLVER TO HIS HEAD AND HE’D JUST SIT THERE WITH IT IN HIS MOUTH.”

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KELOWNA – A dangerous situation in downtown Kelowna last summer could have turned tragic if it wasn’t for the actions of a group of strangers and a compassionate response by an arresting police officer.

On Aug. 9, 2014, a young woman approached a constable on foot patrol near the Queensway bus loop saying a man with a handgun was threatening to hurt himself.

The 23-year-old man would later be arrested for possessing a weapon and faced Judge Ellen Burdett in court this week. Crown lawyer Colin Forsyth says the man was in a state of amphetamine-induced psychosis when he took out a gun and threatened to kill himself in front of a group of strangers. He recounted the police file.

“He would put the revolver to his head and he’d just sit there with it in his mouth,” the witnesses told the constable. "If I see a cop I’m blowing my head off or I’m waving it around so they shoot me.”

The witnesses told police the man never pointed the gun at any of them and even warned them to stay away.

“I’m not fucking around,” he said. “I don’t want you getting hurt.”

He told the witnesses he had been evicted from his apartment and the small group of concerned strangers spent an hour with him trying to convince him not to end his life, Forsyth said.

The man fled the scene before police arrived but was found at a residence on Saucier Avenue. When the officer approached him, he was talking to a female and carrying a backpack. The officer, with gun drawn, ordered him to approach with his hands up. He knew from dispatch the man was likely armed and emotionally unstable but when he saw the man complying with his orders he "guided him to the ground", according to Forsyth.

In the backpack, the officer found an eight-round .22 calibre revolver, cocked and loaded. Later testing confirmed the gun was in working order.

“If the trigger was pulled it would have fired,” Forsyth said.

It’s not entirely clear how the man came into possession of the gun, says Forsyth. Defence lawyer Gavin Jones said it was reported stolen from a residence in West Kelowna a few months before the arrest, but claims Malone found it with other items in a plastic bag.

“If he was in the state of mind he’s in today he wouldn’t have picked it up,” Jones said. He thought about selling it for drugs to overdose but it’s clear he wasn’t level headed at the time this was going on.”

The case highlights one of the most difficult situations police face. An armed and emotionally unstable man in a crowded area is a clear threat to public safety, but it requires as much compassion as caution.

“He was suicidal, he was depressed,” Jones said at the man’s sentencing Wednesday, Nov. 18. “He is thankful that the situation didn’t get any worse.”

The man was taken to Kelowna General Hospital and certified under the Mental Health Act. He was released on a promise to appear but arrested again a few weeks later for breaching conditions. Police found him on Kane Road Aug. 28 at 2:30 a.m., intoxicated and smelling of marijuana. He was released on a $1,000 surety.

At court Wednesday, he appeared before Judge Burdett looking and sounding healthy. The courtroom was packed with friends and family, and although nervous, he spoke clearly and with confidence. He told Burdett he has started taking medication prescribed by a psychiatrist and said the two incidents were a major turning point in his life.

“I stand before you a changed person,” he said Wednesday, adding that telling witnesses he was going to force a cop to shoot him was one of the dumbest things he's ever said. “For the first time in my life I’ve made a real effort. I’ve truly acknowledged what I’ve done. I want to be involved in my daughter’s life. I’ve tried to change my life. I would be willing to do anything to not see myself behind bars, but if that’s rehabilitation you feel I need… I will accept that.”

Crown recommended the breach charges be dropped and asked for two years in jail. In his final argument Forsyth acknowledged his succesful efforts to stay out of trouble the past year while on bail and that rehabilitation should be a key focus of the sentencing. Jones asked Burdett for a conditional sentence - essentially house arrest - followed by two years of probation.

“I have to change,” he said, crying. “I want to try and prove to the court… I truly have changed and am dedicated to continue to change. I never pointed a gun at anyone but myself… I feel that I’ve proven that I can stay in society.”

Judge Burdett will take an additional two weeks to make her decision.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Adam Proskiw at aproskiw@infonews.ca or call 250-718-0428. To contact the editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015
InfoTel News Ltd

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