Tag Archives: ASIRT

Killer Cop Michelle Phillips Charged for Driving Over 41-Year-Old Man

It is among the rarest of a rarities. A police officer who kills a civilian actually being criminally charged with something. Anything. On Friday, June 16, 2017, killer cop Michelle Phillips, an RCMP constable in Alberta, was charged with one count of dangerous driving causing death and one count of dangerous driving causing bodily harm for driving over and killing a 41-year-old pedestrian who had been injured in a prior collision and striking and seriously injuring a 71-year-old man who was helping the injured man. The crash and killing occurred on August 21, 2016, on Highway 881 near Anzac, Alberta, 420 kilometers north of Edmonton.

The charges were announced by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT), the agency that investigates cases of police harm to civilians in the province. The ASIRT release described officer Phillips’ actions as follows:


“While responding at an extremely high rate of speed, the officer came upon a number of vehicles stopped on one side of the highway with their lights on and proceeded to drive past these vehicles without slowing. Unfortunately, this location was where the pedestrian had been originally struck and the officer ran over the injured pedestrian prone on the roadway with the police vehicle, killing him, and striking the hand of a 71-year-old man who had been rendering aid to the pedestrian, causing serious injury.”


An internal RCMP code of conduct review is underway and the officer, who had one year of service at the time of the deadly crash, has been suspended with pay. Phillips has been released on a promise to appear. She is set to appear in Fort McMurray provincial court on August 2, 2017.

This decision is, as all such decisions are, surprising given the state’s preference for protecting police. Of course this does not mean a conviction will result. ASIRT has been criticized recently for practices that appear to favor killer cops.

Thirty-Two-Year-Old Man Dies in Alberta RCMP Custody (May 13, 2017)

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT), the unit that investigates case of police harm to civilians in the province, is examining the death of an as yet unnamed 32-year-old man in RCMP custody on Saturday, May 13, 2017.  The man was in custody at the Fort McMurray RCMP detachment for supposedly drug-related offenses. Unverified police claims state that the man asked to make a phone call at about 2:45 AM Saturday morning. Four minutes after he was moved to a secure room to make the call, RCMP claim they entered the room to find the man on the floor in some medical distress. He was supposedly treated by paramedics at the scene but died two hours later in hospital. None of the police claims have been independently confirmed.

ASIRT Again Clears Cops Despite Finding “Procedural Errors” Led to Prisoner’s Death

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) the provincial body that investigates incidents of police harm to civilians in the province, is quickly developing a reputation for letting cops off on flimsy grounds when they are involved in civilian deaths.

On Friday, April 21, 2017 ASIRT announced that no officers from the Tsuut’ina Nation Police Service (TNPS) would be charged after a 25-year-old man in police custody apparently killed himself. This despite the fact that the ASIRT investigation found that the force did not follow the “specific protocols [which] were in place” for times when the man, who was known by police, was taken into police custody. According to the ASIRT ruling said “procedural errors” were made and the man was left unsupervised, which protocol said he should not have been “resulting in a sufficient amount of time to commit suicide” (ASIRT).

The man had been arrested on February 17, 2015, supposedly for intoxication and a complaint about his presence at a residence. So once again police were called to address a health care issue and the result is a civilian death.

ASIRT, which has an apparent habit of offering bogus excuses for officers and forces involved in civilian deaths, such as the dubious “excited delirium” claim, this time went one better. Their report attributed the man’s death to the vague and rather unscientific explanation of a “perfect storm” resulting in the man’s death. Surely this is clearly an ideological or copaganda mystification that excuses the officers involved for their own active choices and actions, the committing of procedural errors, and the role those played in contributing to the death. Yet the “perfect storm” means even a consideration of something like negligence is nullified. To the benefit of the police officers responsible.

ASIRT said in a statement that: “This case, however, should remind officers of the duty of care they undertake when exercising custody or control of another person” (ASIRT). Yet there is no mechanism to go beyond the occasional reminder when the investigative body keeps providing excuses to get cops off when civilians die in their custody.

Similarly,  in a statement, Chief Keith Blake of the TNPS said: “The Tsuut’ina Police remain absolutely committed to the highest levels of care for those persons in our care and custody” (Statement). Yet this case shows the lack of commitment to even basic standards of their own protocol. So one might well ask what it is they remain committed too.


ASIRT Stats Show Large Increases in Police Violence, Lethal Force in Alberta

Statistics released by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) show a troubling steady increase in major police-involved incidents of violence, including police killings of civilians over the last decade.

In 2008, the year ASIRT began operations there were 10 cases of police violence that resulted in death or serious injury. In 2016, there were 42 such incidents. These include a range of police actions: police shootings, vehicle pursuits and collisions, use-of-force incidents with no weapon, and injuries caused by use of tasers and police dogs. The ASIRT statistics show nine police shootings that caused death or serious injury in 2013, 10 in 2014, 13 in 2015, and nine in 2016.

As of mid-April, 2017 there are nine police-involved incidents of death or serious injury under investigation in the province; three in Edmonton, three in Calgary, and three in RCMP jurisdictions. Of the three fatalities, one was in Edmonton, involving the Edmonton police department and the other two were RCMP cases. Edmonton has had three police shootings of civilians in March 2017 alone. One was the fatal police shooting of Vitaly Savin, a 55-year-old construction worker with no criminal record, who was targeted by police simply for supposedly driving erratically.


Police Incidents Involving Death or Serious Injury (By Year)

Year       Incidents

2008       10

2009       20

2010       18

2011       25

2012       18

2013       27

2014       31

2015       48

2016       42


Calgary police had a brutal year in 2016. The Calgary Police Services were responsible for a total of 10 police shootings that year. This stands as the highest total of police shootings of any city in the country. Five of the shootings were fatal and two caused injury. To his discredit the Calgary Police Chief Roger Chaffin has threatened retribution against whistleblowers in the department who speak to media and has blamed the police violence on a drug panic of his own creation.

Edmonton’s Acting Chief Kevin Brezinski has tried to blame a vaguely constructed “organized crime” and strangely a supposed increase in home invasions. It is not clear how this would have anything to do with his force’s killing of Vitaly Savin for supposed erratic driving.

Anthony Heffernan’s Family Files Lawsuit against Killer Cop McLoughlin and Calgary Police Service

As has been documented numerous times on this site the families of people killed by police in Canada are routinely denied even basic information about the police actions in which their loved ones were killed. This includes information about the officers directly responsible for the killings. The situation is not addressed through provincial investigation units since killer cops are not required to provide statements to such units and, of course, typically choose not to.  Thus families are left with no recourse but to file lawsuits against killer cops and the forces that protect them in order to gain even basic insights into the events that took their loved ones’ lives.

The family of Anthony Heffernan, killed by a multiple killer cop two years ago, has had to take the route of a lawsuit against the Calgary Police Service (CPS) in an attempt to find answers that have so far been denied to them. They also hope the lawsuit will result in changes to the department and prevent similar killings. The lawsuit is seeking $225,000 to cover the cost of Anthony Heffernan’s funeral, lost wages, and grief counseling required by the family. In August of 2016, the Heffernan family found out that the officer who killed Anthony would not face any charges. A statement of claim in the lawsuit argues there “was an excessive and unlawful use of force” in Anthony Heffernan’s killing. In the lawsuit the family also claim that some or all of the service members involved in the incident created notes and reports that were “false, misleading, containing omissions or exaggerations” (quoted in Potkin 2017). The family is also appealing the decision not to bring charges.

Anthony Heffernan was tasered and shot four times and killed by an officer after police broke into the hotel room in which the young man was staying in the city’s northeast in March 2015. All of this happened within 72 seconds of police entering the room (Potkins 2017). He was alone in the room and posed no threat to anyone outside the room, certainly he posed no threat to the public. He did not leave the room and posed no threat officers or anyone else in the hallway. The officer who killed Anthony Heffernan was not suspended and killed another man while on duty only a few months after the Heffernan killing.

Grant Heffernan, Anthony’s brother, explains the lawsuit as follows: “The point is we want is police accountability for their actions. It’s not about the money. It’s about hopefully going to trial and getting unanswered questions that we’ve had from the beginning” (quoted in CTV 2017).

The defendants listed in the lawsuit include former interim police chief Paul Cook along with five CPS members. Four of the officers are identified as John Doe while one officer is identified as Constable McLoughlin (no first name), said to be the killer cop. Patrick Heffernan, Anthony’s father, notes that police have never identified who the five officers at and the family only learned the surname of the killer cop McLoughlin through ASIRT (Potkin 2017).

In yet another of the numerous cases in which the courts protect killer cops, the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) ruled that there was potential for charges in the killing of Anthony Heffernan only to see prosecutors not bring charges because they were of the view that there was  “no reasonable likelihood of conviction” (Potkins 2017). ASIRT concluded that Heffernan had his hands in the air at the time police shot and killed him.

The Heffernan family notes, with disappointment, that while the ASIRT investigation included statements from four of the officers in the room when Anthony was killed it did not include statements from the officer who killed their loved one. While they, like other family members of victims of police killings, cannot believe this was not part of the investigation it is, in fact a protection all killer cops enjoy.

The family hopes that the civil suit will finally ensure that the officer provides a first-hand account of why he shot Anthony multiple times.


Further Reading

CTV. 2017. “The Family of a Man Shot and Killed by Police is Suing Calgary Police” CTV News Calgary. April 11. http://calgary.ctvnews.ca/the-family-of-a-man-shot-and-killed-by-police-is-suing-calgary-police-1.3364792

Potkin, Meghan. 2017. “Anthony Heffernan’s Family Suing Calgary Police.” Calgary Herald. April 10. http://calgaryherald.com/news/local-news/heffernan-family-suing-calgary-police-for-more-than-40000-after-fatal-shooting

Investigation into Death of 20-Year-Old Man in RCMP Custody

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) is investigating a strange set of circumstances that ended in the death of a 20-year-old man in RCMP custody near Goodfare, Alberta (near Grande Prairie) on February 11, 2017. A young man supposedly breaks into a home. Was the owner home? Police enter the home after receiving permission from the owner. They reportedly find the young man who supposedly broke in resting on a couch. He supposedly picks up a nearby gun before police interact with him. Police claim they then simply left the home. Supposed attempts to contact the man again are said to be unanswered. When police re-enter the house they claim they find the man’s dead body.

Because the man died while the house was under control of police officers, it is registered as an in-custody death. It has not been independently confirmed that police fired no shots from any gun (police firearms or other).

A Troubled Explanation: Using Victims’ Histories of Mental Illness to Excuse Killer Cops

It is rare for police who kill civilians in Canada to suffer any repercussions for their actions. They are almost never charged, for even lesser offenses let alone murder, and are generally not subject even to administrative discipline. Even more police who kill are provided with a number of pre-packaged excuses to let them off the hook when they kill. Among these are the myth of the dangerous job, excited delirium, and victim blaming. The latter is often used in cases where police kill someone experiencing addiction or mental health issues. Often inquests and coroner’s inquiries replay these excuses in legitimizing the actions of killer police.

A particularly offensive example of this can be found recently in the report released on Friday, December 9, by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) in the case of RCMP officers who shot and killed a 47-year-old Morinville man in May of 2015. While not at all surprising that ASIRT found the RCMP officers to be justified in killing a civilian, it was rather stunning that ASIRT executive director Susan Hughson would victim blame by calling the victim “a troubled man” with “a troubled history” and focusing on his history of mental health issues. And the executive director took the step of issuing a statement to this effect.


The Killing

In the case of this killing RCMP were called to a home in the countryside by a family member who claimed that the man, who was prohibited from being on the property by court order was supposedly “acting out of character” (CBC News 2016). The family member claimed the victim might have stopped taking medication.

Some time after 7:30 PM, four officers arrived at the home and undertook a search of the property looking for the man. After more than an hour the man was spotted in a field nearby, not on the property. Police may then have agitated the man by telling him he was under arrest. After yelling at the man he reportedly picked up two long rifles and turned an walked away from the police. Yes, according to the ASIRT report he walked away from, not toward, the police. Officers continued to use the language of arrest and surrender. At some point when the man turned around he was shot once by an officer, falling to the ground.

Rather than assist the man officers waited for both air crews and an armored vehicle to arrive before going to “secure the suspect” (CBC News 2016). The man could not be revived and died at the scene. Notably he had been shot once in the abdomen and might have survived with earlier assistance.


OK to Kill a Troubled Man? An Ideology of Legitimation

Notably the justification given by ASIRT for the police killing leaned very heavily on victim blaming and emphasizing the man’s “lengthy and troubled history of significant mental illness” (CBC News 2016). Executive director Hughson doubled down by also highlighting the victim’s “conflict with the law” (CBC News 2016). According to the executive director’s statement: “He had a documented history of psychotic and mood related behavioural issues and delusional thoughts for which his family had repeatedly sought help” (CBC News 2016). Hughson’s statement continued: “Within the preceding year, the man had previously made comments that he would not be able to handle going to jail, that he hated police, and that he had had suicidal thoughts. He was supposed to be under psychiatric care at the time of his death” (CBC News 2016). Clearly the police emphasis that he was under arrest would have stoked any anxiety about a possible return to jail.

But this background is purely justificatory. The history does not speak to the actions of police on that day in that place. It provides a screen behind which virtually any police action, at any time, in any context could be legitimized. In this case ASIRT executive director is saying that the victim’s history allows for any and all actions taken by police against him. This is the ideology of legitimation that excuses police violence and killings of civilians.


Further Reading

CBC News. 2016. “A Troubled History: RCMP Justified in Shooting Death of Alberta Man, Investigation Concludes.” CBC News. December 9. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/a-troubled-history-rcmp-justified-in-shooting-death-of-alberta-man-investigation-concludes-1.3889522