An RCMP officer has been convicted of aggravated assault for shooting an unarmed Chemainus man during a traffic stop in September 2009.
On Thursday, Duncan provincial court Judge Josiah Wood found Const. David Pompeo was affected by “fear-induced stress” when he shot William Arthur Gillespie on Sept. 18, 2009.
Wood said he was satisfied that Pompeo believed it was necessary to shoot Gillespie because he believed he faced the imminent threat of grievous bodily harm or death. But Pompeo’s belief was not based on reasonable grounds, Wood found.
In his 83-page judgment, Wood said fear-induced stress caused tunnel vision and affected Pompeo’s ability to estimate time, distance and speed. Pompeo was convinced Gillespie had a firearm and Pompeo’s rapidly escalating fear and anxiety convinced him he was at risk of being killed.
“The obvious question that seems to arise was why Mr. Gillespie would suddenly become intent on shooting a police officer just because he had been stopped for driving while prohibited,” Wood wrote.
Pompeo, who graduated from RCMP training in 2005, was assigned to the Duncan/North Cowichan detachment’s street crime unit in September 2009, the trial heard.
Eight days before the shooting, Pompeo and his partner, Const. David Birchett, saw Gillespie outside a house in North Chemainus.
Birchett knew of Gillespie and had received information that he was trafficking in marijuana. A record check found Gillespie was convicted of robbery involving a firearm in 2005 and had been prohibited from driving for three years.
Around 9 p.m. on Sept. 18, the officers saw Gillespie driving on Henry Road with a passenger and decided to check his licence.
The police vehicle, with its emergency lights flashing, followed Gillespie’s car until it turned into the driveway belonging to his passenger.
Within 40 seconds, Gillespie had been shot.
During the trial, which began in September, Gillespie testified that he was ordered out of the car by the officers and that he saw Pompeo’s gun.
The officer screamed at him to get on the ground. Gillespie testified that he got on his knees and “as he reached in front of him to lie down, he heard the shot and saw a flash.”
Pompeo testified that Gillespie and his passenger got out of the car and turned to confront the officers.
Pompeo said he got out of the police pickup and drew his firearm after he saw Gillespie’s left hand go toward his jacket pocket.
Gillespie discarded something rectangular and white on the ground and moved toward him, Pompeo testified.
Pompeo said he shouted, “Police, stop. Get on the ground,” but Gillespie continued to advance on him with his hands near his pocket.
Gillespie’s hand came out of his pocket a second time with nothing in it.
He lowered himself to the ground, but then propped himself up on his elbow and reached for his pocket.
“I was convinced the next thing that was coming out of that pocket was a weapon,” Pompeo testified.
Wood concluded — based on evidence from an independent witness — that Gillespie’s hand did not go into his pocket a third time.
The judge found that Pompeo failed to take into account the fact that Gillespie was complying with police commands when he went to his knees, and that he had twice reached into his pocket without producing a weapon.
“When [Gillespie] finally did comply, Const. Pompeo’s perception of the threat was so elevated he was unable to adjust his belief in the nature and degree of that threat.”
After the verdict, Gillespie issued a statement saying he was pleased with Wood’s decision. Gillespie criticized the RCMP and said he lives in constant pain.
“People across Canada should be pleased that the courts are not going to look the other way on police use of excessive force and trigger-happy police officers,” he said.
RCMP officials said they would review the ruling before making any comment.
The case has been adjourned until March 12 to fix a date for sentencing.
With a file from The Canadian Press
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