Home / RCMP cleared in former soldier’s death after police opened fire on veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder

RCMP cleared in former soldier’s death after police opened fire on veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder

By Tristin Hopper/NationalPost.com
Published on May 2, 2013
Photo Credit: Matters Family. Gregory Matters was shot and killed by RCMP in Prince George, B.C., during a 2012 encounter.

B.C.’s police watchdog on Wednesday officially cleared the Prince George RCMP of any criminal wrongdoing for shooting dead Gregory Matters, a 40-year-old Bosnia veteran suffering from post traumatic stress, in an altercation at his rural home.

Nevertheless, Mr. Matters’ family continues to question why a helicopter, four heavily armed Mounties and two bullets to the chest were needed to subdue a mentally unstable man armed with nothing more than a throwing hatchet.

“It raises serious concerns about police response, tactics and decision-making which in this case led to the death of Greg Matters,” wrote the family in a statement published Wednesday.

“Given that [Emergency Response Team] officers are specially trained to ‘take dangerous and difficult people into custody in a safe manner’ why did they fail so miserably in this case?”

Discharged from the military in 2009, Mr. Matters had served with the Canadian Forces for more than 15 years, including peacekeeping stints in the Balkans. Last month, citing Mr. Matters’ PTSD diagnosis, Veterans Affairs issued Mr. Matters’ family with a Memorial Cross, an award given to surviving family members of a soldier whose death is attributable to their service.

In a 16-page report published Wednesday, B.C.’s Independent Investigations Office concluded that “there was no evidence that any police officer committed an offence related to this death.”

In the early morning of Sept. 9, 2012, Mr. Matters called police with a request to arrest his brother, Trevor, who he had spotted drunkenly driving on to his property and “doing donuts.”

“Greg then chased after him in his vehicle and ran him off the road … Stated we could find the vehicle in the ditch,” according to an officer’s notes collected by the investigation.

In repeated 911 calls asking whether they had taken Trevor into custody, at one point an increasingly agitated Mr. Matters said, “If the police don’t deal with [his brother], he will … Stated he would take matters into his own hands and it would not be pretty,” according to the officer’s notes.

Police moved in to arrest Mr. Matters the next day, sparking a 30-hour standoff. On the evening of Sept. 10, Mr. Matters was walking down his driveway to surrender when he became spooked by a helicopter hovering overhead, retreated into his home and emerged minutes later holding a hatchet.

An officer then ran forward and hit Mr. Matters with a burst from a taser. When the weapon appeared to have no effect, another officer put two rounds into Mr. Matters’ chest.

“There was no hesitation in Matters’ advance with the hatchet raised and I was left with no option if I was to prevent Matters from wounding or killing [the other officers],” the officer told investigators.

“I switched off the safety of my rifle, aimed at Matters’ center of mass, and fired two rounds.”

An officer armed with a less-lethal shotgun loaded with bean-bag rounds was nearby, but he told investigators he could not get a “clear line of fire at that point.”

In Wednesday’s statement, the Matters family wrote that “although Greg might have been difficult to deal with at times, he was not dangerous.” They also questioned why a simple domestic complaint was allowed to escalate so quickly into a tense, high-stress standoff.

Repeatedly, say the family, police brushed off the offers of neighbours, relatives and Mr. Matters’ psychiatrist to talk to him, preferring to “enter on the property and force the issue instead,” as the B.C. Civil Liberties Association said in an earlier statement.

At no point was Mr. Matters armed with a firearm.

The watchdog’s job was only to determine criminal culpability. Any questions regarding the “reasonableness of police decisions” were forwarded to the RCMP and the Commission for Public Complaints.