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Public hearing ordered into Christmas Day Victoria police fatal shooting

Lisa Rauch died after being shot in the head with hard plastic projectiles in 2019

The father of a woman who died after being shot by police with hard plastic projectiles says he’s feeling a “sliver of hope” after the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner ordered a public hearing into the death.

On Christmas Day of 2019, Lisa Rauch, 43, was shot in the back of the head three times by a Victoria police officer who used an ARWEN weapon, described as a “less-lethal” weapon designed to incapacitate a person by causing pain with a relatively low level of injury.

The weapon is intended to be fired at the body of a person, not the head, according to the ­province’s police watchdog, which in 2020 cleared Const. Ron Kirkwood of wrongdoing in Rauch’s death.

In the OPPC hearing, ­Kirkwood will face allegations of abuse of authority and neglect of duty.

“All it is is a sliver of hope that there might be some ­consequences for the whole thing. Everything has been shut down, shut down, shut down. We’ve gone every route you can go and it’s all been shut down,” Rauch’s father, Ron Rauch, said of the public hearing.

On Dec. 25, 2019, Lisa Rauch had barricaded herself in a unit of a supportive housing facility on Pandora Avenue that was on fire, prompting a call to police.

Officers were told the woman had a knife. They were also aware she had been arrested the day before in the same building after staff said she was there uninvited and acting ­aggressively and violently.

She was arrested on ­Christmas Eve and taken to police cells to sober up, then released around 6:30 a.m. ­Christmas morning.

Officers told ­investigators with the Independent ­Investigations Office of B.C. they could see flames in the room and described the smoke as a “wall” reflecting light from their flashlights.

Officers were worried Rauch could be in a loft above them and could drop an accelerant, ­putting them at risk, according to a 2020 report by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C.

An officer thought he saw Rauch standing with her arms at her sides and fired three rounds. Police then realized she had been sitting on a couch facing away from them.

She was unresponsive and bleeding when she was removed from the room.

The Christmas Day shooting caused massive bleeding in Rauch’s brain and she died four days later after being removed from life support.

Rauch’s family has been frustrated by what they see as a lack of accountability for her death.

After the IIO said there was no evidence the officer fired purposely at Rauch’s head in what the watchdog’s chief civilian director called “a tragic accident,” the Rauch family pursued other means to hold the officer and the Victoria Police Department accountable.

“The best-case scenario would be that Const. Kirkwood would be found some kind of guilty and so would the police department. If I had all the money in the world, which I don’t, I would have sued right at the beginning. I’m confident I would have won,” Rauch said.

The family lodged a complaint with the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner in November 2020, one month after the IIO cleared the officer in the case, which led to an investigation by a professional standards external investigator with the Vancouver Police Department and a finding in 2022 that allegations of misconduct were unsubstantiated.

Police complaint commissioner Clayton Pecknold appointed a retired judge to review the matter after deciding there was a reasonable basis to believe the Vancouver Police Department decision was incorrect.

The retired judge, Elizabeth Arnold-Bailey, initially said one allegation related to a lack of notes made by Kirkwood, contrary to VicPD policies, appeared to be substantiated, but upon considering further evidence, she agreed with the earlier finding.

Kirkwood dictated a brief “will-say” document to a supervisor, but did not make any notes or sufficiently document the incident, Pecknold wrote.

Arnold-Bailey found that the officer was given legal advice to not provide statements or make any notes due to his Charter right to silence, and none of his supervisors told him he had a duty to provide any additional statement beyond the will-say.

The retired judge found that despite departmental policy, the officer was entitled to rely on the advice of a lawyer and was not required to make notes or provide a statement about his actions until he was told he would not be charged criminally in relation to Rauch’s death.

Unsatisfied with the results, the family in August requested a public hearing. Pecknold said in a notice of public hearing issued Thursday he granted the request because a hearing is in the public interest and it’s possible Arnold-Bailey incorrectly applied the law in her decision.

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

He noted Kirkwood did not provide any evidence to the IIO during its investigation and there are concerns about “the possible reckless nature of the use of force,” given the officer did not have a clear visual target, and about the reasonableness of the assessment of the danger Rauch posed.

Victoria Police Department Chief Del Manak said in a statement he supports measures to ensure police accountability, but the incident has already been reviewed by three levels of oversight, all of which found no misconduct.

“At this point, my thoughts are with the family and the officers involved, who have all been subjected to a years-long process that has impacted their ability to move forward with their lives. We will continue to support the member who is the subject of this investigation, and our hearts are with the family who continue to re-live this event through these investigations almost four years later,” he said.

As a result of investigations into the incident, Manak said, VicPD has made recommended changes to its note-taking policy, and created clear guidance on reporting requirements in use-of-force incidents.

Rauch said his daughter started facing mental-health challenges and using drugs after the family moved to Langford from Saskatoon when she was in Grade 8. She eventually lived on the streets and sought help, but the system failed her, he said.

“My theory is when this all happened, the police thought, ‘Oh, it’s just another druggie. Nobody’s going to care.’ We care,” Rauch said.

A date for the public hearing has not yet been set.

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