She got her gun back, then she killed herself

Cpl. Brent Robertson was at his desk in Langford on the morning of July 11, 2018, when he overheard people talking about the suicide of former RCMP officer Krista Carlé a few days earlier.

Members of the Sooke detachment were upset, he recalled someone saying. Concerned about her mental state, they had taken away Carlé’s firearms licence and her handgun about 18 months earlier. A month after they returned her gun, she used it to take her own life.

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At the time, Robertson, a 22-year veteran of the Victoria and Central Saanich police forces, was working as a firearms officer, seconded to the RCMP National Weapons Enforcement Support Team, known as NWEST. His job was to provide oversight and assistance on police investigations related to the seizure of firearms.

He didn’t know Carlé personally, but was aware that she had been one of the first women to speak out about sexual misconduct in the RCMP. She had been sexually assaulted by a fellow RCMP officer and endured years of abuse while on the force.

Robertson decided to look into why and how Carlé had got her gun back — an investigation that has led to an ongoing and unresolved conflict. Asking uncomfortable questions pitted him against other police officers, he said. These are the same questions that haunt Carlé’s brother, retired naval captain Kevin Carlé, who believes the process that allowed his sister to get her handgun back was flawed.

On that July day, it took Robertson less than an hour to uncover that between Feb. 27 and July 19, 2017, the police had been called to deal with Carlé’s mental-health issues 24 times.

Robertson learned that Sooke RCMP officers had gone to her home on Feb. 27, 2017, after Carlé was seen acting strangely and carrying a gun. They seized her gun and her firearms licence for “safekeeping.”

The handgun was stored in an exhibit locker until June 2018, when she asked for it back. It was returned to her that month. On July 6, 2018, Carlé killed herself.

> Part 2: Mounties’ decision to return gun to PTSD victim haunts her brother

“There were so many red flags, I was shocked at the fact her firearm was returned to her,” said Robertson. “It has bothered me since day one.”

In the files, Carlé is described as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and being erratic, unpredictable, bizarre, off her meds, paranoid and manic. Carlé was also apprehended twice under the Mental Health Act, handcuffed and taken to hospital.

She spent three weeks at the Royal Jubilee Hospital from Feb. 20, 2017.

She was apprehended again in July 2017. This time she was hospitalized for eight weeks until September 2017.

In one incident, shortly after her gun was seized, Carlé showed up at the Sooke detachment early in the morning. No one was there. The members were off-duty or on call.

“They knew the person waiting at the detachment was Krista Carlé and they were concerned enough that they didn’t want to go to the detachment to get their uniforms and guns. They called on-duty members at the West Shore RCMP to secure the detachment,” said Robertson. “They were just afraid. Period.”

If Carlé was applying for a firearms licence today, she would not be issued one, he said.

“She was clearly not someone who should be in possession of a firearm or a firearms licence.”

On the day he began his investigation, Robertson phoned B.C.’s chief firearms officer to find out what information he had relied upon to reinstate Carlé’s firearms licence. He said he was told the office would not be releasing any information about Carlé’s review.

Within an hour, said Robertson, his supervisor told him he had received an angry call from the firearms office asking why he was making inquiries about the decision to reinstate Carlé’s firearms licence.

After Robertson explained what was going on, his supervisor told him to go ahead with his review.

But that didn’t last long.

Fifteen minutes later, Robertson said, he received a call from the inspector in charge of NWEST for western Canada.

Robertson was told there were multiple investigations into Carlé’s death going on, including one at the RCMP commissioner level, and that a public inquiry was likely. He was warned that if he continued to investigate, he could be arrested for obstruction, Robertson recalled.

That was July 2018. To date, Robertson has not received any updates on Carlé’s death.

Frustrated that his concerns might be swept under the carpet, Roberston contacted the Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia, a civilian-led police oversight agency responsible for conducting investigations into incidents of death or serious harm that may have been the result of the actions of a police officer, whether on or off duty.

Chief civilian director Ron MacDonald said the Independent Investigations Office subsequently looked into Carlé’s death to determine whether it should fall under their jurisdiction.

“We determined her firearms licence and ability to retain a firearm was actually restricted from April 2017 to June 2018,” said MacDonald. “As we understand it, in June 2018, she made an application and proved to the province’s firearms authorities that her firearm privileges should be restored. Then she went to the police and said she wanted her firearm back and they gave it to her on June 6, 2018. She then took her life 30 days later.”

The IIO does not have any evidence to connect the actions of Sooke RCMP with her death and won’t be conducting further investigation, he said, noting that there had been no mental-health calls in the 11 months prior to her firearm being returned.

“We don’t see any connection at this point between the actions of a police officer and her decision to take her own life. The fact that she had a gun and had it for 30 days and made a decision on her own to take her own life isn’t sufficient to say the actions of police led to her death in a criminal way,” MacDonald concluded.

Robertson also contacted the B.C. Coroners Service. He learned its investigation into Carlé’s death remains open.

“In any death investigation we conduct, there is always the possibility for the investigation to conclude with an inquest. It would be premature to comment on whether or not this specific death investigation will go to inquest,” said spokesman Andy Watson.

Robertson decided he wanted to leave NWEST and return to Central Saanich. He began work as an acting patrol sergeant in January 2019.

“I was just having a hard time with everybody talking about honesty and transparency and integity when it is the complete opposite and things are being covered up and hidden. Being threatened with arrest for obstruction was pretty epic,” said Robertson, who knows coming forward has affected his career.

In November, Robertson filed a five-page complaint with the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP.

He did so after learning that, in death, Carlé was denied compensation from a $100-million class-action sexual-misconduct settlement known as the Merlo Davidson Settlement. Carlé had submitted her claim on time, but the organization overseeing the settlement failed to review it before she took her own life. The settlement only allows compensation for living officers. Her two grown children will not get a cent.

To Robertson, that was the final straw.

“As far as I am concerned, the RCMP failed to protect Krista Carlé when she was a member of the RCMP. They failed to protect her again after she left with significant mental-health issues. I think looking back at everything, the RCMP failed Krista Carlé. In reality, they were directly responsible for her death.”

Robertson’s complaint alleges that Sooke RCMP failed to conduct a proper review and threat assessment on Carlé before they returned her restricted firearm. In June 2018, Carlé contacted the Sooke RCMP to ask for the return of her firearm. A civilian employee was asked to conduct checks on Carlé and to note anything of concern about the return of the firearm.

The complaint alleges that the civilian employee advised the RCMP that there was only one file — a property file — related to Carlé.

“She failed to mention the more than a dozen files related to Carlé where members had been documenting that she had significant mental-health issues,” says the complaint.

Robertson also alleges that the officers should not have seized the gun for “safekeeping.”

In this case, because Carlé was clearly a danger to herself and others, police should have seized the firearm for public safety and applied for a court order to have it forfeited and destroyed.

Robertson also alleges that being warned that his investigation could lead to an obstruction charge amounted to harassment

Last week, Robertson received an email from the RCMP advising him that his complaint is being investigated by a senior official based in Saskatchewan. He will be provided with updates every 30 days.

In Vancouver, senior media relations officer Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet said the RCMP is aware of the public complaint that was filed with the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission and the investigation into the public complaint is underway.

“We are limited in what we can say about this ongoing public complaint investigation. However, we can confirm that in advance of receiving notification of the public complaint, the B.C. RCMP initiated an internal review of the events relating to Ms. Carlé’s death. That review is nearing completion and has resulted in a number of recommendations, many of which have already been actioned.

“While we cannot share publicly the results of this review, we are committed to providing all relevant information to support the public complaint investigation.”

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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