Policing

Disbelief and outrage after no criminal charges against police officer who killed Chantel Moore

Moore, a 26-year-old Tla-o-qui-aht woman from Vancouver Island, was killed during a 'wellness check' in New Brunswick last year

By Brishti Basu
June 9, 2021
Policing

Disbelief and outrage after no criminal charges against police officer who killed Chantel Moore

Moore, a 26-year-old Tla-o-qui-aht woman from Vancouver Island, was killed during a 'wellness check' in New Brunswick last year

By Brishti Basu
Jun 9, 2021
Chantel Moore. Photo: Facebook
Policing

Disbelief and outrage after no criminal charges against police officer who killed Chantel Moore

Moore, a 26-year-old Tla-o-qui-aht woman from Vancouver Island, was killed during a 'wellness check' in New Brunswick last year

By Brishti Basu
June 9, 2021
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Disbelief and outrage after no criminal charges against police officer who killed Chantel Moore
Chantel Moore. Photo: Facebook

Family members of Chantel Moore are in disbelief after hearing the outcome of an investigation of her death at the hands of an Edmundston, New Brunswick police officer during a wellness check on June 4, 2020.

The New Brunswick Public Prosecution Service announced on Monday that they will not be pursuing criminal charges against Cst. Jeremy Son, the Edmundston Police Force member who shot Moore four times, causing her death. 

One year after the incident, the results of an investigation led by Quebec's independent police watchdog, the Bureau des enquetes independantes (BEI), convinced the Public Prosecution Service that while Moore is a victim of homicide at the hands of the officer, his use of force was justified as a measure of self defence. Police reports say Moore approached the officer with a knife, making him fear for his safety. 

This news was presented to Moore’s mother, Martha Martin, and her lawyer at a meeting on Monday. Dr. Judith Sayers, the president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal council, was also present at this meeting.

“Having talked to several of the [family] members, they're all very upset and just can't believe that this man got away with basically killing their family member,” Sayers told Capital Daily. “I’m just still trying to process everything.”

Joe Martin, Moore’s great-uncle and one of her family members in the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation on Vancouver Island, said he has not yet read the report but does not believe the incident took place as police describe it. 

“It is police investigating police for themselves. They protect themselves, and I don’t agree with them,” Martin said in an interview on Monday. 

At a vigil for Moore held in Victoria last week, on the anniversary of her death, he described what he saw when he visited New Brunswick for her funeral.

He says the family had hired cleaners to clean Moore’s apartment but when they got there, they called the family, distraught, and asked them to go see the place for themselves. 

“We went there and looked and in the back room of the apartment, there was a blood splatter. And it was not only in one part of the room,” said Martin, gesticulating with his arms to show where else in the room he saw blood splatters. 

“When I called the investigative team in Quebec...they said to me ‘Oh those are probably just wine splatters.’ That's not a wine splatter. I know what blood looks like. I'm a hunter.”  

The question was briefly addressed in the independent investigation.

According to the BEI, the landlord and previous tenant of the apartment both confirmed that there had been “a trace of a red substance in one of the rooms” before Moore moved in. The landlord guessed that it could be wax or paint. 

Upon request of the public prosecutor, a forensic examination of the red substance was conducted and the report concluded that it was not blood. The investigation does not clarify what the substance was.

Review of the investigation

Chantel Moore was a 26-year-old Indigenous woman belonging to the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation on Vancouver Island. She had recently moved to New Brunswick to be closer to her five-year-old daughter. 

Moore was getting her two-bedroom Edmundston apartment ready for her and her daughter to live in, when she was shot to death at its doorstep. 

Quebec’s independent watchdog originally submitted the results of their investigation into her death to the New Brunswick prosecutor’s office in December 2020. That first report was missing the final autopsy report and an analysis of the contents of Moore’s cell phone. These findings were later submitted in March 2021.

The prosecutor’s review of the watchdog report details the fact that Moore’s ex-boyfriend, who lives in Quebec, called 911 to request a wellness check at 2:06 a.m. after receiving several Facebook messages from Moore that appeared to indicate that someone else had access to her phone. 

The responding officer, Jeremy Son, climbed the exterior wooden steps of the building to get to her third floor apartment. There, he says he stood on the balcony in front of her door while knocking on the window to wake her up after noticing that she was asleep on the couch.

In the review, Son says he saw her grab something from her kitchen counter and come towards the door looking angry, with a “furrowed brow.”

“Ms. Moore opened the door and came out of the apartment moving in his direction, with a knife in her left hand,” reads the review. “[Cst. Son] pointed his gun at Ms. Moore as she continued to advance towards him with the knife held at head height. She did not speak a word. She had a blank stare.”

That’s when the officer fired his gun four times, until Moore dropped to the floor of her balcony. The autopsy, conducted the next day at Saint John Memorial Hospital, found the cause of death to be extensive injuries to the internal organs caused by three gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen. A fourth gunshot wound was found in her leg, below the left knee. 

Answers to some questions remain murky despite the investigation.

One of these questions is that of whether or not Moore was actually brandishing a knife when she answered the door. 

A witness at an apartment diagonally across from Moore’s place was awakened by the sound of four gunshots in rapid succession at around 2:30 am. When he went outside to watch what was happening, he says officers told him to go into his apartment because they did not want him to see what was going on.

The witness stayed on his balcony and said he observed officers searching for something on Moore’s landing. He believed police placed the knife at the scene—but there was a knife missing from inside the house where the officer said Moore had picked it up.

A small steak knife was found by forensic investigators under a flattened cardboard box on the balcony. A forensic analysis of the knife failed to yield fingerprints clear enough to identify an individual with. 

In his review, the public prosecutor argued that this information is not sufficient to conclude that Moore was not brandishing the knife, because Son was heard yelling “drop le couteau” or “drop the knife” by another officer and a civilian witness that night. 

The review also notes that besides his gun, the officer had other weapons at his disposal, including pepper spray and a baton. 

“While [Son] had other deterrent measures at his disposal (i.e. pepper spray and a baton) given how quickly the events unfolded and the nature of the threat he faced, this author can’t say that the use of force was disproportionate,” reads the review. 

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Son is further identified as the Use of Force instructor for the Edmundston City Police, and in his interview with BEI, admits that he cornered himself on the balcony instead of moving towards the staircase, which would have left him with space to move away from Moore.

“After the fact, he regrets his decision to go left and not towards the stairs, as he would have had an exit route,” reads the review. “He acknowledges that had he done that, the sequence of events may have had a different outcome.”

Martin maintains that something sinister happened to his grand-niece on the night she was shot to death. 

“I mean, that big police officer… he trains people how to disarm if you come at him with a knife. He’s supposed to do that,” Martin said.

“Why did he go to that end of the balcony rather than towards the steps, if he was so afraid for his life?” 

Responses from First Nations

First Nations across BC have expressed outrage at the fact that Son will not face criminal charges for shooting the 26-year-old to death in her own home. After Moore’s death, Son was taken off duty for three weeks before being put back on the job in an administrative role. 

“The biggest problem with this case is that it is only the police officer’s statement that the Crown depends on for a large part of the evidence. There was no body cam, there was no witnesses so this police officer will say what he has to in order to save himself,” Sayers said in a statement issued by the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council.  

“I have never understood how an armed, large police officer was scared of a 5 foot, 100 pound woman with a small knife in her hand if she had one. Shooting 4 times is excessive force by anyone’s standards except the Crown counsel.”

The overall statement expresses outrage at the lack of justice and accountability, and calls for  localized cultural safety training for police across Canada. It also advocates requiring officers to wear body cams, as well as  Indigenous oversight each time an Indigenous person is harmed or killed by police or RCMP in the country. 

“Since Chantel’s death, we have seen 2 other Nuu-chah-nulth members shot by RCMP, 1 fatal and 1 very severely injured and still recovering in hospital,” reads the statement. “This is an unacceptable pattern and Indigenous people’s lives must be valued and protected.”

The First Nations Leadership Council in BC issued a similar statement on Monday, adding that the decision to forgo criminal charges against Son is indicative of “an endless cycle of unchecked racism and violence and the delay and denial of justice.”

There are still some avenues of justice the family and First Nations continue to pursue. 

Sayers tells Capital Daily that Martha Martin, Moore’s mother, is considering bringing a wrongful death lawsuit against Son in civil court. 

A coroner’s inquest into the death of Chantel Moore will begin on December 6, 2021. This is a fact-finding process that allows the public to present evidence relating to a death, but does not make any legal recommendations or assign blame.  

And a Police Act complaint that was filed 11 months ago can finally proceed, now that the criminal investigation has concluded. 

“We do intend to continue politically with all of the things that we feel need to be changed in the justice system, so that this never happens again,” Sayers told Capital Daily. 

These include calls for a review of how wellness checks are conducted, and a focus on training officers in de-escalation tactics instead of the use of force. Police departments typically have an officer designated into the role of teaching other officers how to de-escalate. 

In the case of the Edmundston Police Force, that officer, until he was placed on desk duty last year, was Cst. Jeremy Son.

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Disbelief and outrage after no criminal charges against police officer who killed Chantel Moore