Judge said police standoff in Summerland was like a scene from a horror movie | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Penticton News

Judge said police standoff in Summerland was like a scene from a horror movie

An RCMP officer is seen collecting evidence outside the Centex gas station in Trout Creek after a man with a chainsaw was taken into custody.

Robert Austin Teal was hoping Oct. 22, 2021 would be the day he died when he used a chainsaw to initiate a police standoff in Summerland.

Fortunately the RCMP managed to resolve the situation peacefully.

Today, July 29, he had to face the music at the Penticton Courthouse where the full details of the incident was disclosed.

That day in October, Teal entered a liquor store in the Trout Creek neighbourhood of Summerland. He fired up his chainsaw and told the employee as well as a customer to get out, which they did.

Teal then locked the doors. Next he used the chainsaw to cut open a box of liquor.

He grabbed a bottle of liquor, wine and a pack of Budweiser beer to bring next door to a gas station that’s attached to the same plaza.

Inside the gas station, he started up the chainsaw again and told that clerk to leave the store, which they did.

Teal then barricaded himself inside, blocking the front entrance with a freezer for ice cream.

The RCMP were alerted to Teal’s presence at 6:29 p.m. when he was still in the liquor store. By the time officers arrived on scene he was in the gas station.

Police set up a perimeter around the building to prevent Teal from escaping.

Officers were trying to contact Teal but were not getting a response. Police believed his actions to be unpredictable.

Eventually he communicated with police by placing a handwritten note on a window. On it was a phone number and the name of a woman he identified as his ex girlfriend, and the note said he wanted to speak with her.

READ MORE: Man taken to hospital after standoff with Kamloops RCMP

Police advised Teal he was under arrest and told him to exit the store.

Instead, Teal found ways to amuse himself while inside the gas station. He enjoyed some ice cream, cigarettes, liquor, beer, and samosas while the incident was ongoing. He was also using the chainsaw to cut stuff up, he squirted lighter fluid around the store, and then lit some paper on fire before putting it out.

He finally compromised with police – he agreed to surrender so long as he could smoke a cigarette first.

The police agreed – officers told him after the smoke, he had to exit the store without the chainsaw, and with his hands up.

So Teal had his cigarette in the store while moving a few things around.

Before he exited the store, he fired up another cigarette and kept smoking, then left with his hands in the air. He was arrested at 7:27 p.m. 

Teal made a bizarre statement to police that night.

“Did I hit someone with a rock at the botanical gardens? Is he okay? Is he dead? I’m a good man who goes into a gas station with a chainsaw and (messes) things up.”

Teal was possibly referring to the nearby Summerland Ornamental Gardens when he mentioned the botanical gardens. But either way, that sentence didn't seem to relate to what had just unfolded.

Crown counsel Andrew Vandersluys described Teal's actions as “childish, but also a very destructive and dangerous tantrum.”

The fact that Teal was coherent enough to write a woman’s name and contact info down and demand to speak with her shows that he was “not completely out of it,” Vandersluys said. 

“This was not the behaviour of somebody in a dissociated state – his actions were deliberate.”

Had Teal succeeded in getting killed by police, the public would have been put at risk and officers would have possibly experienced trauma, the Crown said.

Judge Shannon Keyes was told that six months earlier – in April 2021 – Teal found himself in a similar situation.

He had barricaded himself inside an apartment in Penticton, where he was yelling and barking at police, smashing items against the door and breaking windows. He continually challenged police to a shootout, was throwing broken glass at officers, and demanded he be able to speak with the same ex girlfriend.

He pleaded guilty to uttering threats in relation to that incident.

Teal’s intention in both cases seemed to be the same – death by police, Crown said.

In a statement submitted to the court, Teal said “I didn’t have the nerve to kill myself so I was hoping they would do it for me.”

“That overrides any sympathies he might get for the mental health struggles he faces,” Vandersluys said.

The Crown wanted a three year prison sentence.

READ MORE: One person is in custody following an hours-long armed standoff in Victoria

Defence lawyer Nelson Selamaj recommended a more lenient punishment – a 14-month sentence that would be completed today after giving Teal credit for time served, as he’s been in custody since the date of the incident.

Selamaj told the judge that Teal had a rough childhood. His mother struggled with substance abuse. When he was six he spent several days locked in a basement with no food, stuck in soiled clothing.

During one episode when Teal was 12 his mom held a gun to his head, cut herself with broken glass, and ran off.

Teal’s father took him into his care after that and was raising him up north at a work camp – not an ideal setting for a young boy, Selamaj said.

His mom killed herself in 2002.

Teal, who was born in 1977, had his first conviction as an adult in 1995. He experienced more legal issues and homelessness throughout his adulthood. But from 2016 to 2021 there was a period of stability after he met an outreach worker who helped him turn his life around. He kicked his drug habit, was living in an apartment, and formed a romantic relationship with the outreach worker – the same woman he wanted to call during the gas station incident.

He has a 15-year-old son he’s never met and he was incarcerated when the boy was born. He tried to commit suicide without the help of police by swallowing all of his meds at once but that attempt failed.

However Teal no longer wishes to die, the court heard. His mental health has stabilized since being incarcerated. He has a new appreciation for religion and is on the waiting list for a recovery bed at Discovery House in Penticton.

At the time of the incident he was high on meth and hadn’t slept in five days. His mental state began deteriorating during the summer prior to the incident because he lost his intimate partner and relapsed.

When Teal had the chance to address Judge Keyes he told her summer 2021 was the darkest, loneliest and hardest period of his life.

Contrarily, those five years before last summer were “the most beautiful time” of Teal’s life, he said. He never expected to find himself in front of a judge again while he was living clean.

Teal said wishes he coped better with the breakup but says he now has a better understanding of his faults and what makes him tick. He said he is not the same man who misused a chainsaw nine months ago.

A local business owner was in court to speak favourably about Teal. He said Teal is an incredibly talented artist whose work decorates his workspace. With the right supports in place the businessman expressed confidence that Teal would be able to stay out of trouble.

Judge Keyes called the circumstances of the case peculiar.

Teal’s actions were intended to be scary, she said.

Firing up a chainsaw in front of unsuspecting strangers is something straight out of a horror movie, she said, using Texas Chainsaw Massacre as an example.

For the emergency response team that had to tend to Teal’s chainsaw incident – that was an “instant replay” of the standoff he had six months earlier, Judge Keyes said.

If there was a proper tally of the damage done, she suspects the mischief charge would have been for over $5,000, rather than less.

“Frankly, it’s a disaster,” she said about photos of the crime scene. 

Judge Keyes also factored in the disregard Teal had for the officers who responded.

“He didn’t have the guts to kill himself and was hoping the cops would do it for him.”

But even if Teal only intended for harm to be inflicted upon himself – putting police in a position to experience the pain and trauma of ending a human life is also a form of harm, Judge Keyes said.

Judge Keyes noted that he was not in a sensible frame of mind when he first spoke to police after exiting the gas station.

She rejected both submissions from the Crown and defence. She considered three years to be too stiff and 14 months too lenient.

For the charge of possessing a weapon for a dangerous purpose, Teal was sentenced to two years in prison, 730 days, minus time already served. He has credit for 422 days so 308 days remain.

He was also sentenced to one-year prison terms for mischief under $5,000 and theft under $5,000, although those will both be served concurrently.

After Teal is released from prison he will be on probation for two years. A lifetime weapon and firearms prohibition was also implemented, and Judge Keyes clarified that chainsaws meet the definition of a weapon in his case.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Dan Walton or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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