Saskatoon police officer who fired at man in fatal confrontation tells inquest there was no other option
Published Wednesday, June 23, 2021 1:00PM CST Last Updated Thursday, June 24, 2021 10:24AM CST
SASKATOON -- During day three of the inquest into the death of Steven Rigby, one of the officers who fired his gun at the 27-year-old explained why he felt it was necessary.
Rigby died after he was shot by police during a confrontation on Dec. 22, 2018.
Nathan Lynchuk, a former Saskatoon police constable, was on the scene and fired his gun at Rigby.
Lynchuk testified that Rigby fired his gun into the air, fell down, began walking towards police and fired again, this time at police level but not in their direction, and then began to point his gun towards police.
Lynchuk said at that point he had cover behind the armoured vehicle on scene, but couldn’t say with certainty that other officers had cover as well, so he fired one round at Rigby, heard multiple other shots fired, and saw Rigby fall to the ground.
He said he wasn’t given an order to fire, but no order was necessary, as he felt other officers were being threatened. He said he couldn’t remember if he fired the first shot at Rigby—all the shots blended together.
The inquest previously heard that Rigby had three gunshot wounds; one to his right arm above the elbow, one to the front of his right leg that also grazed his genitals, and one to the lower left side of his abdomen that fractured his pelvic bone and severed two major blood vessels.
FEW CHOICES REMAINED AFTER RIGBY FIRED
Lynchuk testified that by firing his gun into the air, Rigby escalated the situation to the highest point of the Use of Force Continuum, and police are trained to shoot at centre mass—a person’s torso—to stop the threat from continuing.
He said he had no knowledge of Rigby’s history of mental illness, wasn’t told that Rigby said he wouldn’t hurt anyone, and only overheard on scene that Rigby had wanted to get into a shootout with police.
“This was a guy who needed help,” he said. “It wasn’t a guy who needed to see the end of his life happen this way. He was a young kid, he deserved more than that.”
Lynchuk said he would like to see a combination of lethal and non-lethal options for officers in the future, and if stopping a threat meant shooting at an area of the body that wasn’t as fatal, like a leg, then he would do it.
The day began with a testimony from constable Chris Rhodes, a member of the Saskatoon police crisis negotiation team.
Rhodes joined the phone conversation that Rigby was having with his friend and Saskatoon police constable Jordan Lapointe, shortly before Rigby put his car in the ditch on Valley Road.
Rhodes said Rigby was the hardest person he’s ever had to read or negotiate with in his career, adding that the words Rigby used in conversation led him to believe he wouldn’t leave the vehicle.
Rhodes testified Rigby told him he had taken valium and drank a 2-4 of liquor, and was very surprised that Rigby left the vehicle and was able to do the things he did.
It was also revealed that Rigby had told Rhodes over the phone that he wouldn’t hurt anyone else, only himself, and that he wouldn’t shoot a cop.
Rhodes said de-escalation in crisis negotiation is best achieved with a single message and single voice, and conflicting messages between RCMP and Saskatoon police could have been detrimental to the situation.
Earlier this week the inquest heard RCMP instructed Rigby to leave his vehicle, while Saskatoon police told him to stay in the car.
He said mental health training and recognition would potentially be beneficial to crisis negotiators in the future, and more resources, including access to a psychologist, would also be helpful.
Cst. Macaully Senger testified that he fired the first shot when Rigby pointed his gun in the direction of an officer who was standing an arm’s length from him and was unaware that his shot missed.
He said it seemed like a second later more shots rang out and Rigby fell to the ground.
Senger said he grabbed a loaded a shotgun from Sgt. Aaron Moser’s police car shortly after arriving on scene. He said he had heard about Rigby’s mental health issues over the police radio from Jordan Lapointe, but wasn’t told that Rigby said he wouldn’t shoot anyone.
Senger testified that Rigby was looking for police to shoot him and wasn’t getting the reaction he wanted by firing shots into the air. He said he fired at Rigby because wasn’t willing to take the risk that Rigby may hurt of kill others to get what he wanted.
Senger said once Rigby’s car ended up in the ditch, the situation ended the way it had to, adding that changes need to be made — getting help for mental health — to ensure people don’t end up in those situations.
He said he believes more mental health training, or training of any kind, would be helpful for officers.
Dr. Oleg Nerutsak, psychiatrist at the Battleford Medical Health Centre and Addictions Services, testified that he admitted Rigby into the centre on Aug. 31, 2018, after two separate suicide attempts within 24 hours.
Rigby was brought to the centre on Aug. 30 after a failed suicide attempt and released into the care of his landlady with medications to help him calm down.
Nerutsak said Rigby took the prescribed medication altogether and was brought back on Aug. 31 as an involuntary patient.
He said alcohol detoxification protocol began and Rigby was discharged on Sept. 6 after showing no measure of mental health disorder, feeling safe with no suicidal plans, and a willingness to deal with addictions services.
Nerutsak said he doesn’t believe Rigby was suffering from depression.
He said he showed depressive symptoms while going through alcohol withdrawal, but when detoxification was done there was no evidence of major depressive disorder.
“When you see someone suffering from a major depressive disorder, this person will not improve within a few days on detoxification,” he said.
“When you see somebody presented with depressive symptoms because of substance use during detoxification, and you see very good improvement, so you can see in front of you a normal person, it’s not a major depressive disorder.”
Nerutsak said medical systems don’t have the power to detain anybody who is suffering from addiction issues unless that person is acutely suicidal and there is imminent risk.
A person has to have goodwill to engage with services, otherwise it won’t work. Ideally, he said, there would be a direct link from inpatient into addiction rehabilitation services.