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Public hearing into fatal 2019 shooting of woman by Victoria police officer starts Monday

Lisa Rauch was shot with ‘less lethal’ weapon in December 2019
Lisa Rauch died in December 2019 after being shot by police. FAMILY PHOTO

A three-week public hearing into the death of a woman shot by a Victoria police officer in 2019 begins on Monday.

On Christmas Day 2019, 43-year-old Lisa Rauch was hit with three rounds from a “less lethal” weapon that fires plastic projectiles. The weapon is designed to incapacitate a person without causing serious injury, but is intended to be fired at the body.

After Rauch barricaded herself in a unit in a supportive housing building on Pandora Avenue that was on fire, Victoria police officer Ron Kirkwood fired shots into the unit, striking Rauch in the head. She suffered bleeding on the brain and died in hospital four days later.

In 2020, an investigation by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. cleared Kirkwood of wrongdoing, in part because emergency crews had been called about a woman threatening residents with a knife. The darkness and smoke also likely obscured Kirkwood’s view of his target as he fired, according to IIO civilian director Ronald J. MacDonald in the decision.

Rauch’s family asked the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner to look into the death, leading to an external investigation by the Vancouver Police Department. That 2022 decision also cleared Kirkwood of misconduct.

Police complaint commissioner Clayton Pecknold then appointed a retired judge to review it once more, deciding there was a reasonable basis to believe the Vancouver police investigator got it wrong.

That led to a public hearing being ordered by the OPCC, at which Kirkwood will face allegations of abuse of authority and neglect of duty.

“The circumstances surrounding [Rauch’s] death require a full accounting,” said Pecknold in October. “I agree with the complainants that the circumstances related to police officers’ accounting for their actions in police-involved deaths must bear public scrutiny.”

The OPCC announced this week the hearing will be heard at its offices in Victoria from April 15 to 19, April 29 to May 3 and May 6 to 10, beginning each day at 10 a.m. The hearing will be presided over by retired B.C. judge Wally Oppal.

As part of the hearing, IIO investigators will be asked to give evidence about the duty of “subject officers” — Kirkwood in this case — to prepare and file notes and reports.

Oppal’s decision, as in all OPCC public hearings, on whether there was misconduct is considered final and conclusive. He can also make recommendations about police policy and practice.

More information about the hearing is available at opcc.