The Victoria police officers who returned a rifle to a man who then went on a shooting rampage in Burnaby just weeks later have been cleared of wrongdoing.
The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner agreed with a Vancouver police investigation which found that the officers showed no misconduct in returning a rifle to Angus David Mitchell.
Mitchell killed two people in a Burnaby sushi restaurant on May 27, 2012, and then shot and injured his former landlord two days later. After a provincewide manhunt, Mitchell was killed in a shootout with police in Maple Ridge.
Mitchell, a Victoria resident at the time, went to the Uptown Medical Clinic in Saanich on the morning of Feb. 7, 2012 toting a rifle. Clinic staff called Saanich police after Mitchell left.
Several Victoria police officers arrested him at his home in Rockland the next day under the Mental Health Act and the rifle was seized. Mitchell applied to a judge to have the firearm returned and Victoria police returned it several weeks later.
The Vancouver police department concluded the officers’ actions were reasonable in the circumstances, Victoria Police Chief Frank Elsner said in a statement Monday.
The OPCC supported the conclusion that “the tragic outcome of any event cannot be used to define the conduct of police officers from the perspective of hindsight,” said Elsner.
The police complaint commissioner determined the officers’ actions “met the standard of what a reasonable police officer with similar training, knowledge, skill and experience would have done in the same circumstances,” said deputy commissioner Rollie Woods.
Woods said the officers completed the investigative steps available to them before returning the rifle.
The department has changed policies since the incident, Elsner said, including improved firearms training and directing officers to take into account mental-health issues when investigating firearms cases.
“Although our officers were found to have completed all of the investigative steps that were reasonably available to them, the tragic outcome remains,” Elsner said. “We are committed to the new procedures that we believe will reduce the likelihood of a similar occurrence.”
Mitchell worked as a security guard for Themis Security in Victoria in early 2012 before moving to the Lower Mainland. Police found he had a list of people he wanted to kill.
A coroner’s inquest in Burnaby in 2013 examined Mitchell’s death and his involvement with police and doctors in the weeks leading up to the shootings.
Mitchell had a history of mental illness and substance abuse. He had no criminal record but was the subject of several complaints to police involving violence.
A psychiatrist who released Mitchell from a Victoria hospital after he walked into the clinic with the rifle told the inquest that he did so because Mitchell’s explanation for his behaviour was plausible.
Mitchell was also allowed to keep his firearms licence after the incident.
Terry Hamilton, chief firearms officer for B.C. and Yukon, told the inquest her office approved the firearms application even though Mitchell had police complaints lodged against him, including threatening a former employer and getting into a confrontation with a landlord.
Since Mitchell did not disclose mental illness or substance abuse in his application, and he had never been apprehended under the Mental Health Act, the office did not delve further into his medical history.
The coroner’s jury made recommendations, including that the B.C. Health Ministry consider allowing people to force a mentally ill family member to undergo a psychiatric assessment, and that all gun-licence applications include a consent for releasing medical information.
With a file from the Canadian Press