Justifying the killing of an innocent person is messy business.
The man who heads the body that investigates police when someone is killed or injured by them put as much polish as he could Friday on the official report into the Winnipeg police shooting of Mark Dicesare.
Zane Tessler, director of the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba, said the five policemen who shot Dicesare to pieces at point blank range had no other choice.
The evidence was clear, said Tessler, that the distraught 24-year-old had seen his world fall apart; he felt he had nothing to live for; and he intended to kill himself, eventually choosing to get police to do it for him by threatening them with a fake machinegun.
If the story was so cut-and-dried, why did Tessler chose to smother it in spin?
Was it to hide the clusterf*ck that immediately preceeded the fatal shooting?
For the uninitiated, clusterf*ck means (to quote Wiktionary) “A chaotic situation where everything seems to go wrong. It is often caused by incompetence, communication failure, or a complex environment.”
Here’s a snapshot of the chaotic moments before Dicesare was killed:
* after his car was stopped at the Kapyong barracks site, he was surrounded by 19 police cars and 29 armed police officers. Many of them didn’t know who was in charge.
* the siren of the cop car parked at the driver’s door of Dicesare’s car kept blaring for 20 minutes, drowning out attempts to talk to him. It was finally shut off less than 3 minutes before the final shooting.
* once the siren was turned off, so many officers began yelling instructions to Dicesare that the ranking supervisor at the scene had to personally make his way over to them to tell them to shut up.
* the officer who shot Dicesare with a shotgun from 10 feet away was not authorized to use the weapon. He said in his heavily lawyered statement that he thought his shots hit the police car behind which he was hiding. The autopsy on Dicesare showed he was struck by one shotgun slug round and sprayed with pellets from another. The officer said his partner told him a slug round “would be better suited to travel through material like a car door as opposed to double ought buck rounds.”
Tessler repeatedly said Dicesare carried a firearm. No he didn’t.
He carried a BB gun. A BB gun doesn’t fire bullets. We’re guessing that deploying half the police force to trap and kill a man with a BB gun doesn’t have the same macho narrative, especially for the Winnipeg Tactical Support Team (the local name for the Swat team) which got to claim their first kill after almost 9 years in operation.
But, but, but…the police didn’t know it was a fake gun. They had every reason to act as if it was a real Uzi. True. But 20 seconds before the fatal shooting, an observant officer went on radio to inform everyone at the scene that Dicesare’s weapon had no attached magazine. That meant that at best he could fire one shot that might already be loaded even if it was a real gun, something Tessler failed to say.
Tessler made much of numbers. A 911 call lasting 32 minutes. 33 demands to drop the gun and give up. He failed to say that Dicesare only spoke to 911 operators for about 10 minutes, during which he said at least three times he did not intend to hurt any police officers, only himself.
Then after stopping his car he threw his phone out the window where it lay on the ground but the line was kept open. A police siren screaming a few feet away from him distracted him for the next 20 minutes,drowning out most of those demands to “drop the gun”.
Tessler’s report reads like a prosecutor’s brief, not an honest reflection of what actually happened. Which isn’t surprising given Tessler’s background as–wait for it—a crown prosecutor who works daily with police and has to trust them to build his cases.
Other tidbits gleaned from the report:
* Four of the five policemen who killed Dicesare refused to cooperate with IIU investigators. They provided heavily lawyered statements, then clammed up.
* Dicesare led police on a high-speed chase that was straight out of Animal House. A line of 15 police cars was seen racing after him. One cop car dropped out after being damaged making a u-turn. Two cars pinned Dicesare between them but he managed to push his way out. He hit three private cars during the chase and one police cruiser hit him. It rear-ended his car when he stopped abruptly, causing the air bag to open in the driver’s face, knocking him out of the pursuit.
* In his news conference, Tessler kept using the word “carbine” to describe the weapon used by police to shoot Dicesare. A carbine is a rifle. Police shot Dicesare six times with their rifles, twice with handguns and once with a shotgun. At a distance of 15 to 30 feet—less than the length of a Winnipeg transit bus. The officer who hit him twice with his pistol fired 4-5 shots.
* An officer wanted to use a Taser on Dicesare but couldn’t get close enough for a clear shot. Another said he didn’t have time to get other non-lethal tools like a bean-bag gun. A dog handler was on the scene, but didn’t want to send the dog on a “suicide mission.”
* Unintended humor and irony dot the report. The officer who shot Dicesare three times with his rifle in the “centre of mass”, intending to kill him, then went over to give him CPR. A second shooter, who hit Dicesare twice with his rifle, said in his prepared statement that he “noted an immediate change in (Dicesare’s) behaviour” after the man was blasted by rifle fire, a handgun and a shotgun.
An inquest has been called at which a Crown attorney will say that the police had no other choice but to shoot and kill Mark Dicesare.
But they did.
At least four of the police officers surrounding Dicesare had their rifles at the ready for the better part of 23 minutes. Their rifles are supplied with iron sights, designed for accurate fire to 100 yards or more. Shooting at a stationary target 30 feet away is a turkey shoot.
Individual police officers are told not to be cowboys thinking they can shot a suspect in the arm or leg like they do on TV. If they shoot, they shoot to kill, concentrating their shots on the “centre of mass” where a bullet is likely to hit the heart, lungs or major arteries.
But rifles are not handguns. They are designed to hit something from much further away. An incident leader could have ordered any one of the riflemen to take aim from a safe distance and shoot Dicesare in the arm, leg, or even his weapon.
He did not have to be killed. The police did have another choice.