The province’s police watchdog has cleared four RCMP officers of any wrongdoing after a shootout wounded a man and his son during a pursuit around Merritt and Kelowna in 2021.

Police officers were pursuing a man and his minor son on highways between Merritt and Quilchena on June 6, 2021, that ended with “an exchanged of gunfire,” according to an Independent Investigations Office of B.C. report released today, Nov. 17. Both the man and his son were injured.

“It was (the man) alone who created the circumstances that led to him being shot. There is no evidence that any officer discharged a firearm until (the man) began firing multiple shots in their direction when his vehicle finally came to a stop. At the range involved, his firearm was quite capable of causing grievous bodily harm or death to any of the officers, or to any unfortunate civilian in his line of fire,” IIO chief civilian director Ronald J. MacDonald said in the report.

The IIO decision was made public in December, 2021, but the release of the complete report was delayed until court proceedings against Gerald Hartley Cooper were complete. Cooper pleaded guilty to five criminal charges, including possession of stolen property over $5,000, wielding a prohibited firearm and criminal negligence causing bodily harm of his son who was 11 years old at the time.

Court heard Cooper was on a violent, meth-fueled shootout and police chase last June. He was given a nine-year sentence, with 782 days credited for time already served.

The incident originally began at roughly 3:51 p.m. when a Cooper fled from a police officer who was investigating suspected property offences at a property north of Quilchena. He was driving a flat-deck truck with a trailer attached and his son was in the passenger seat. They drove southbound along Highway 5A, according to the report. Police did not pursue at that time as the driver was speeding.

After driving onto a side road and ditching the trailer, Cooper returned to Highway 5A where another police officer began to follow him. Police used a spike belt and the vehicle began to swerve all over the road, according to police.

READ MORE: Boy, 11, shot three times in father's shootout, chase with Merritt RCMP last year

Shortly afterwards, he stopped the vehicle and shot a rifle, although he “fired it in the air.” Twelve non-RCMP .223-calibre cartridge cases were found along the highway but no RCMP shells were located.

Then in the Nicola Ranch area, he suddenly stopped the truck, got out and shot several volleys in the direction of the RCMP, the report said.

A cyclist who witnessed the incident told IIO investigators "he saw the truck, rolling on its rims, pass and then suddenly lock its brakes about fifty feet ahead of him. He said he saw the driver quickly exit and begin firing what he took to be a semi-automatic rifle.”

The cyclist dropped into the ditch and saw three police vehicles stopped along the road. The investigations office found no evidence officers dispatched their firearms at this time, according to the report.

The man and his son then returned to the truck and drove through Merritt. Multiple police vehicles followed behind him.

READ MORE: B.C. police watchdog clears RCMP in Merritt officer-involved shooting

An officer told the investigations office he stopped suddenly in the middle of the road and again began shooting toward the officers. The officers began firing back. Cooper surrendered after he had been shot in the abdomen. He was taken into custody and received medical treatment at the Merritt hospital.

“On examination of the truck... evidence was found of 19 possible bullet strikes, 18 from the rear and one from the front. Inside the vehicle were located a further 10 non-RCMP-issue expended .223-calibre cartridge cases, one live .223 cartridge and another magazine containing 17 live .223 rounds.”

Weapons were also found in the vehicle including a collapsible baton, brass knuckles and a knife and drug paraphernalia. The rifle used by the man during the incident was found to have been modified so as to be capable of firing as a fully automatic weapon, which is prohibited.

The magazines he possessed were high-capacity types that are also prohibited in Canada, according to the report. The son’s injuries were caused by bullet fragments and they were also treated.

"I do not consider that there are reasonable grounds to believe that an officer may have committed an offence under any enactment and therefore the matter will not be referred to Crown counsel for consideration of charges," chief civilian director MacDonald said in the report.

The IIO is the independent civilian oversight agency of the police in B.C. It investigates all officer-related incidents that result in serious harm or death, whether or not there is any allegation of wrongdoing.

To read the full report go here.

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