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Report clears officers of wrongdoing in Saanich bank robbery response while revealing new details

Independent Investigations Office describes moment-by-moment events that left six officers shot and two suspects dead

Policing
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Report clears officers of wrongdoing in Saanich bank robbery response while revealing new details

Independent Investigations Office describes moment-by-moment events that left six officers shot and two suspects dead

The GVERT van in and around which officers were shot. James MacDonald / Capital Daily
The GVERT van in and around which officers were shot. James MacDonald / Capital Daily
Policing
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Report clears officers of wrongdoing in Saanich bank robbery response while revealing new details

Independent Investigations Office describes moment-by-moment events that left six officers shot and two suspects dead

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Report clears officers of wrongdoing in Saanich bank robbery response while revealing new details
The GVERT van in and around which officers were shot. James MacDonald / Capital Daily

Saanich and Victoria police acted lawfully in killing two suspected bank robbers early last summer, a report from the Independent Investigations Office of BC has found. Duncan brothers Mathew and Isaac Auchterlonie were killed shortly after leaving the Shelbourne Street Bank of Montreal branch they were believed to have robbed on the morning of June 28. 

“This was one of the most challenging incidents an officer could ever expect to face in their career,” Victoria police chief Del Manak said in a press conference on Wednesday, echoing what Saanich chief Dean Duthie said at a press conference the day of the shooting. Duthie has been with the department for nearly three decades and said “there’s been nothing” in that time that has come close to what he witnessed.

The Auchterlonies arrived heavily armed and equipped "for an extremely serious armed confrontation with police," the report's author, Chief Civilian Director Ronald J. MacDonald, wrote.

The report, which is automatically triggered when police kill someone in the line of duty, summarizes the events leading up to the brothers’ deaths, using officer and witness testimony, CCTV footage, eyewitness footage, dispatch records, forensic records, autopsy results, dashcam video, and other evidence to piece together what happened that day. It reveals a great deal of information that had never been made public before, including the specific type of weapons the robbers used, what was in the trunk of their car, and the precise moment-by-moment events of the robbery and shootout. 

It concludes that the police response was lawful. “They were responding to a series of calls about an armed robbery in progress, and had a duty both to protect the victims and to arrest the perpetrators,” the report reads. “They were justified in using force to achieve those ends, provided the force used was within the range permitted by the criminal law.” 

Saanich Chief Const. Dean Duthie addresses reporters in June. Photo: Jimmy Thomson / Capital Daily

Duthie said there have been a lot of unanswered questions since the shooting six months ago, and the report helps to provide more clarity.

“I fully respect and appreciate that such lingering questions can impede and delay healing and closure, which can make it difficult to move forward in a healthy and confident way,” he said.

In a statement earlier in the day, he said the community still feels the impact of the shooting, and he lauded the professionalism, dedication, and heroism of the officers involved.

“[The IIO’s] independent and unbiased review of officers’ decisions and actions that day commends their professionalism, courage, and response,” he said. “We are pleased that this extensive and thorough investigation report provides information and clarity that affords the public an opportunity to gain a stronger understanding of the dire circumstances that required immediate life-saving actions by responding officers.”

Victoria Police Chief Del Manak echoed Duthie’s words at the press conference and added that more than 50 police officers and staff responded to the incident by going to the scene or following up in the days after.

“This was one of the most challenging incidents an officer could ever expect to face in their career,” he said. “The physical and emotional impact of this event on our people cannot be underestimated.”

New details on exact series of events

The robbery began just after 11am. The two brothers—who were triplets—pulled into the bank decked out in body armour and tactical gear. They were each holding a 7.62 mm calibre SKS semi-automatic rifle—a legal firearm in Canada—with an extended magazine. One of the two also carried a knife in a sheath. The trunk of their white 1992 Toyota Camry was packed with weapons, ammunition, and “improvised explosive devices,” according to the IIO report. 

The two are referred to in the report as AP1 and AP2, and it is not clear which of the brothers is which. After they were identified by police following the shooting, reporting from Capital Daily revealed one of the brothers, Matthew had unsuccessfully applied to join the Canadian Armed Forces. Isaac's Instagram account showed a reverence for war, military, and weapons. He also shared videos of the infamous 1997 North Hollywood shootout.

A witness who asked not to be identified later said she had seen someone casing the bank the night before, wearing a black ski mask.

Entering the bank, one of them fired a shot in the air, hitting the ceiling of the vestibule. 

Video recordings show what happened next—a series of events that broadly matches the way witnesses described the events in June. Customers and employees were rounded up and left in a back hallway while the pair carried out their robbery. It doesn’t appear to have gone as planned. 

“They were able to obtain only a very limited amount of cash, and appeared to be disappointed,” the report reads, noting that the recording has no audio attached. “They then spent several minutes pacing around and occasionally looking out through the vestibule windows into the parking lot.” 

The delay was noted as unusual in the report, something witnesses also noted: instead of leaving as quickly as possible, they stayed. That led some to believe the plan had been to ambush the police, but that possibility is not described in the report. 

James MacDonald / Capital Daily

Sixteen minutes after entering the bank, the Auchterlonies left with their rifles pointed down. 

Police were waiting nearby. In the immediate aftermath of the shootout, police told reporters that members of the Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team (GVERT) had already been nearby on an unrelated matter; that is also not described in the IIO report. At Wednesday’s press conference, police said details on why the GVERT was nearby will be part of Vancouver Island Integrated Major Crime Unit’s investigation.

Seven members of the GVERT pulled up directly in front of the bank in an unmarked van. They threw a “flashbang” grenade that was intended to stun the robbers. That didn’t happen. Instead, one of the Auchterlonies raised his rifle and pointed it toward the van. The report wasn’t able to determine who fired first—but says the shooting from both sides began immediately. 

A chaotic shootout

Three officers were shot almost immediately. One officer was shot through his leg, and fell back into the van—he later discovered he had been hit in both the leg and arm. 

Another officer, who may be Constable Damian Pellew (an officer by that name wrote about his experience for the Victoria Hospital Foundation, describing the same injuries as are described in the report) briefly returned fire but was shot in the abdomen and upper femur. 

“I immediately thought of my two kids, Eli and Ella, who are ten and eight years old. I couldn’t believe I had been shot,” he wrote. “As my team worked to stabilize me at the scene, I didn’t know if I was going to survive, and I worried about what would happen to my kids if I didn’t.”

Another officer shouted that he had been shot in the neck, while the driver, a sergeant, exited the van and began firing from a bush nearby—28 rounds in all—before being hit in the foot by a ricocheted police bullet. This is contrary to police statements following the shooting, which stated all the injuries the officers suffered were from the brothers’ weapons—at Wednesday’s press conference Duthie said this was information he personally learned from the IIO investigation.

Two other officers were shot in the legs.

Police scrambled to help their wounded fellow officers. One of the brothers, moving across the parking lot, was shot in the head after shooting at the police van. 

James MacDonald / Capital Daily

The other brother was hit “by several police bullets,” the report says. He fell, and his rifle’s magazine was damaged. Bullets were spilling out of it, so it wouldn’t have been able to be fired. Unaware of this—or fearful that he had access to another weapon—the police continued to shoot him. 

The report deals with the second shooting in more detail than the first, given that the second brother in retrospect no longer presented a threat, crawling on the ground with a disabled weapon. 

“What must be considered, however, is what he was crawling toward, which was the rifle lying beside [his brother],” the report reads. “Finally, of course, it was not known whether [the wounded brother], who appeared to be outfitted for military combat, might be in possession of another firearm or other offensive weapon.”

In all, police fired more than 100 bullets. Three of those wounded one brother, while nine wounded the other; the report doesn’t say how many hit their body armour.

Both of the Auchterlonies died in the parking lot. Some of the wounded were taken to the hospital in police cruisers instead of ambulances out of concern for the safety of ambulance workers.

Recovery

Six officers in total were shot in the exchange. Three were released from the hospital the same day after receiving medical care; the other three sustained life-threatening injuries requiring surgery. Manak said on Wednesday that one of the Victoria police officers has returned to work.

Two weeks after the shooting, Saanich Police said four officers were recovering at home, with two Saanich police officers still being treated in hospital. Pellew had only just been released from the ICU. 

Pellew spent a total of 71 days in the Victoria General Hospital recovering from his two bullet wounds.

For a week and a half he was in a medically induced coma as surgeons tried to save his life; a metal rod was inserted into his femur, and part of his stomach was removed.

After eight weeks in the trauma unit, he was released from hospital. 

“I got into my wheelchair and saw that everyone on the hospital floor had lined the hallway to the elevator,” he wrote. “They all clapped and cheered me on, and it was such a special moment. They nursed me back to health, and it was truly a win for all of us.”

Ongoing trauma for witness

Shelli Fryer still remembers the shooting as clearly as the day it happened. She says it ruined her life.

Fryer was one of the people stuck in the BMO bank the day of the shooting. She had been sitting in the manager’s office when a man carrying an assault rifle entered the bank. He beckoned for the manager to join him, leaving Fryer alone in the office. She quietly called 9-1-1.

In the months that have followed the shooting, Fryer says she has been dealing with trauma and PTSD. She says she has not been able to move past this event with so many of her questions unanswered. In that time she has had trouble getting in contact with police, and she says she is angry with how she has been treated.

Fryer said she received word on Tuesday that the IIO report, detailing the events of that traumatic day, was going to be released in two to three days and that she would be invited to the press conference. So Fryer was taken aback when the report was released just the next day with no warning.

“I’m shocked that it was released today,” she said. “I’m shocked that I received no notification at all.”

—With files from Tori Marlan

tips@capitaldaily.ca

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