Family seeks answers after man shot dead by police in Port Hardy

The family of the 24-year-old man shot and killed by Port Hardy RCMP are desperate for answers around why he was shot, but the investigation by B.C.’s police watchdog could take up to a year.

James Reginald Butters, also known as James Hayward, was shot Wednesday morning after a confrontation with two Mounties on Granville Street and Highway 19. Police said he had a knife, and witnesses heard officers repeatedly shouting “Drop the knife” before several shots were fired.

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Butters’s aunt, Nora Hayward, said her nephew suffered from mental-health issues and that his father, Reggie, told her the day before the shooting that he was worried about his son.

“My brother Reggie texted me the day before saying James wasn’t feeling very good,” Hayward said.

She told him to make sure James got some sleep and to consider bringing him to the hospital.

“The next day I got this text that said: ‘The police shot my son dead,’ ” Hayward said. She called her brother and he was in hysterics. “It was just unbelievable.”

Butters lived with his father in Port McNeill. He would work odd jobs and had been in and out of jail over the past few years.

“He was a good kid, but he struggled a lot,” Hayward said.

His criminal record includes convictions for assault, unlawful confinement, break-and-enter and robbery.

“When he was in jail, they had him on some meds and he was doing OK,” Hayward said. “When he got out, I don’t know if he continued with his medication.”

While Hayward said she doesn’t yet know the full circumstances around what happened Wednesday, she questioned why police used deadly force.

“They were five feet away from him, why couldn’t they have Tasered him, why couldn’t they mace him?” she asked. “He wasn’t running at them.”

B.C. RCMP said they were called to the grounds of Port Hardy Secondary School that morning after receiving reports that a man was making threats.

Hayward said she doesn’t know why Butters would go there but noted the hospital is right across the street.

An investigation by the Independent Investigations Office, which probes police-involved deaths of serious injuries, could take 10 months to a year. At least three officers involved in the shooting have been interviewed and physical evidence was collected from the scene. Investigators are looking to speak with any witnesses and will review surveillance and cellphone video.

Leo Knight, a former police officer and security expert who writes a blog about police incidents, said he’s not surprised police used deadly force, considering that officers repeatedly told Butters to drop the knife.

“Once they’re in the ‘kill zone,’ which is six metres, that officer has to make a choice, which is to shoot or don’t shoot,” Knight said. “If they perceive their life is at risk, they are entitled by law to use lethal force.”

Tasers are not 100 per cent effective, Knight said, adding that police are trained to shoot at the largest target — the chest, rather than an arm or a leg. “If you try to shoot him in the arm or leg, you might miss,” he said. “These things happen in the blink of an eye.”

Hayward said Butters’s body is still on the Lower Mainland undergoing an autopsy. The family hopes his remains will be returned by Monday or Tuesday so they can start planning a funeral.

“It’s such a brutal ending for such a sweet kid,” she said.

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