(Sherbrooke) The Sûreté du Québec police officer who shot dead a teenager in Lac-Brome in the Eastern Townships says the young man clearly posed a threat to police.
Updated yesterday at 10:24pm.
Sidhartha Banerjee The Canadian Press
Joël Desruisseaux told the coroner’s inquest into Riley Fairholm’s death on Wednesday that a colleague of his had repeatedly asked the teenager to put down his gun. He added that there were no signs that the situation could be defused.
He testified that he feared for his colleagues and their lives and that the adrenaline was at its peak. He added that there was no de-escalation that from the moment he stepped onto the tarmac the teenager was aiming his gun everywhere and excited.
The interaction between 17-year-old Riley Fairholm and SQ officers in the early morning of July 25, 2018 lasted just over a minute before Constable Desruisseaux fired a bullet in the head of a teenager in the parking lot of an abandoned restaurant.
So far, the coroner’s investigation has learned that police were unaware that just before he called 9-1-1 himself, the teenager had left a note for his parents announcing that he was going to commit suicide would.
Constable Desruisseaux said on Wednesday that officers who responded to the call were also unaware that the teenager’s weapon was actually an air pistol and not a handgun.
He added that he thinks he was patient that he and his colleagues tried to defuse the situation. He says he tried to repeat the order to Riley Fairholm to drop his gun, saying they were threatened from the start and could have been fatally injured.
The six officers who responded that evening claimed the teenager moved erratically, screamed and waved the gun around him, but never pointed it directly at any of them.
Some of them testified that they heard Riley Fairholm say he had been planning this day for five years.
Coroner Géhane Kamel expressed skepticism several times on Wednesday that the police apparently heard all of this from him, but nothing else.
She questioned police officer Claude Charest about the issue and said that he heard her scream without knowing what he was doing, that he could have said “help me” and that no one heard him.
She acknowledged that the situation was tense due to the presence of a gun, but officers made no attempt to calm Riley Fairholm.
SQ members said they feared for their safety and the possibility that the teenager had suicidal thoughts had not crossed their minds.
Officers Desruisseaux and Charest testified Wednesday that they were ready to fire. Constable Desruisseaux estimated that 15 to 20 seconds had elapsed between the time he took aim at the teenager and the time he fired, adding that the parking lot was dimly lit and Riley Fairholm was wearing dark clothing.
Constable Charest said he was also prepared to open fire, but his colleague did so first.
Guillaume Marion, one of the other police officers present that evening, said many details only emerged after the fact, particularly that Riley Fairholm was a teenager.
He also contradicted the testimony of a colleague, Geneviève Racine. He said the day before that the agent Marion had felt Riley Fairholm’s pulse and therefore refrained from resuscitation maneuvers. On the contrary, the officer said she felt nothing and, given the head injury, concluded the teenager was dead.
A paramedic, Brandon Rodrigue, meanwhile, said he hadn’t found Riley Fairholm’s pulse when he arrived at the scene or while he was being transported to the hospital.
Mr Rodrigue said the teenager was bleeding from the head and not breathing. He asked a local first responder to begin CPR. However, he added that given the injury, it was unlikely that starting CPR earlier would have changed the outcome.
The shooting was investigated by the Quebec Bureau of Independent Investigations (BEI) and the Director of Law and Law Enforcement subsequently decided not to press charges.
Riley Fairholm’s family has criticized the work of the police and the BEI for their lack of transparency in this file.
Several SQ police officers are required to testify at the Sherbrooke Courthouse as part of this investigation, chaired by Coroner Géhane Kamel.