Defence challenges how Oak Bay police has handled murder investigation

Advisory: This story has graphic and disturbing details about a murder case.

VANCOUVER — An Oak Bay police officer who was first to enter a blood-spattered apartment and see a dead child lying on a bed was in shock, and had trouble responding to questions from his supervisor, a B.C. Supreme Court jury heard Wednesday.

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“I had discovered something gruesome. I’d never seen that before … part of me is in shock,” Const. Piotr Ulanowski said, under cross examination by defence lawyer Kevin McCullough. Ulanowski was testifying Wednesday at Andrew Berry’s second-degree murder trial for the deaths of his daughters, six-year-old Chloe and four-year-old Aubrey.

Berry has pleaded not guilty.

Ulanowski testified that supervisor Sgt. Michael Martin, at the Oak Bay police station, asked him for more details. Martin wanted to know if detectives and ambulance were needed at the Beach Drive apartment.

But Ulanowski replied: “Let me know when you’re at the residence.”

The police officer testified that it took him a while to process what he saw. He was also very aware that the girl’s mother, Sarah Cotton, might be sitting in the office listening to the radio transmissions.

“I’m not a robot. I’m responding to the situation at the time and I wanted Sgt. Martin there,” Ulanowski said.

Martin asked him again if ambulances and detectives were needed.

Ulanowski replied: “Yeah. 10-4, just waiting for you guys.”

McCullough suggested Ulanowski was completely distraught and could not make any sense of Martin’s questions.

“It was hard to get the words out. I wanted him there, instead of talking on the phone,” Ulanowski testified.

It was just after 6 p.m. on Christmas Day 2017 when Martin arrived. The power had been cut off and the two officers entered the dark apartment with flashlights to begin a search.

Ulanowksi found Berry lying naked and injured in a water-filled bathtub, with Barbie dolls and other toys strewn on the blood-stained bathroom floor.

“I called out ‘Andrew, Andrew,’ but there was no response. There was a gasp for air but no response,” Ulanowksi testified.

Martin called out to Ulanowski, asking if there was a weapon, asking if he could see the man’s hand.

“Sgt. Martin also called out: ‘Where is the other girl?’ ” Ulanowksi testified.

Firefighters arrived, drained the bathtub, lifted Berry out and sat him on the edge of the tub, Ulanowski testified.

“They stood him up, each on the one side, and as they got him to the threshold of the bathroom, Mr. Berry collapsed. He just sort of dead-weighted them,” Ulanowski recalled.

Martin told Ulanowski to stay with Berry, who was taken to Victoria General Hospital in an advanced life-support ambulance.

On the way there, the officer took a photo of Berry, which was shown to the jury. In the photo, Berry is in critical condition, wearing a high-flow oxygen mask with wounds to his neck and chest.

“Mr. Berry is part of the evidence,” Ulanowksi explained. “Something’s happened and he’s either a victim or the suspect.”

When the officer arrived at the hospital’s emergency room, a nurse rushed up and asked if there were more ambulances on the way.

“I said no. I knew there were two dead girls in the suite and they wouldn’t be moving them until the pictures were taken,” said Ulanowski.

About 7:30 p.m., an emergency room doctor told the police officer that Berry was in stable condition and would live.

Ulanowski returned to the Oak Bay police station and debriefed with members of the Vancouver Island Integrated Crime Unit, who were preparing a search warrant for the apartment.

After that, he went to the fire hall for a mental-health first-aid session arranged for all the first responders involved in the case. He returned to the police station and wrote notes until about 4:30 a.m.

McCullough, the defence lawyer, asked Ulanowski how he maintained continuity of the scene when he actually walked down the hall to the main door to let Martin into the apartment building.

“You open the door, you see blood everywhere and see a badly injured child and remove yourself from area and remove yourself from crime scene,” said McCullough.

“You didn’t go in because of officer safety and there could be people in there.”

“That’s fair,” Ulanowski replied.

The officer was unable to say if anyone came out of the apartment after he closed the door, McCullough suggested.

The defence lawyer also asked the officer if he was aware that Oak Bay Deputy Police Chief Ray Bernoties gave a TV interview about 7:52 p.m. letting the people of Oak Bay know there was nothing to worry about.

Ulanowski replied that he was not aware of that.

“That would be awfully early in a police investigation to be making that statement … 7:52 p.m. would be pretty quick to be wrapping up this case,” McCullough said.

“Probably, yeah,” the officer agreed.

McCullough suggested that Ulanowski’s not knowing whether Berry was a suspect or a victim is incompatible with Bernoties telling the media at 7:52 p.m. that all is well and there’s nothing to be worried about.

“If he’s a victim, there’s a lot to worry about,” McCullough said. “There would be a lot for the police to worry about in Oak Bay. That would mean someone slashed his throat and killed those two children.”

McCullough asked the officer if he had ever heard of a two-hour murder investigation.

“No,” the officer replied.

Throughout the proceedings, Berry appeared relaxed. He chatted with a sheriff and occasionally tried to get his lawyer’s attention. He was wearing a blue blazer, dress shirt and slacks, and looked directly at the jury and at people sitting in the public gallery.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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