Amid protests around the world against police brutality, two Alberta RCMP officers have been arrested and charged in the 2018 killing of a man who they were attempting to interview as a witness to a crime.
The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) announced on Monday, they were charging Cpl. Randy Stenger and Const. Jessica Brown with the death of 31-year-old Clayton Crawford. Stenger and Brown, RCMP officers in the small central-Alberta town of Whitecourt, shot Crawford dead at a highway rest stop on July 3, 2018.
According to ASIRT and news stories from the time of the killing, police were looking for Crawford after unidentified men attacked and shot at a residence he was in. One person was injured and Crawford fled the scene in a vehicle. Police were looking to interview him as a witness and possible victim when they confronted him in a parked vehicle at the rest stop the next day. An altercation arose, and the vehicle began moving, at which point both Stenger and Brown fired at him.
Crawford died of multiple sustained gunshots, the ASIRT reported.
The two RCMP officers have each been charged with one count of criminal negligence causing death. The maximum penalty for a conviction is life imprisonment.
“ASRIT conducted a thorough and independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident,” ASIRT executive director Susan Hughson said at a news conference Monday. “Upon reviewing the evidence, I determined the evidence was capable of providing reasonable grounds to believe that a criminal offence or criminal offences were committed."
Hughson said ASIRT completed the investigation on August 22, 2019, and handed it over to the Crown “for an opinion if the case met their standard of prosecution.” The Crown made their decision on May 29 and Hughson said ASIRT decided to move forward with charging Stenger and Brown.
The decision to charge the two officers comes at a time of great unrest and scrutiny over police brutality. In Canada, protests and outrage have followed the killings of Chantel Moore, a young Indigenous women shot dead by an officer during a wellness check in New Brunswick, and the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a young Black woman who fell 24 stories to her death while she was alone in her apartment with Toronto police officers. The details of Korchinski-Paquet's death have been disputed and are under investigation by an external organization.. As the CBC reported yesterday, two months ago Brampton police shot and killed D'Andre Campbell after Campbell called police himself while suffering from a schizophrenic episode.
In the United States—after years of violence at the hands of police—there have been mass protests and calls to defund the police in the United States following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers.
Details into Crawford shooting
The day following the initial shooting at the residence, an off-duty police officer spotted Crawford’s vehicle at a rest stop, and Brown and Stenger soon arrived at the scene, shortly after noon. Hughson said the officers saw a person they assumed to be asleep inside the car. Hughson says a confrontation occurred when police approached the car and Crawford’s vehicle was “put into motion.” Brown and Stenger both shot Crawford, one with a service pistol and the other with a carbine rifle, killing him. The vehicle drove across the rest stop and nearby highway and crashed into a ditch on the other side of the road. The officers called in the RCMP Emergency Response team to clear the scene and they found Crawford dead in the truck.
Hughson said this was the first time that ASIRT has charged police officers in the death of a person. Every other death ASIRT has found officers' use of force in killing a person was “justified.” ASIRT was created as a police watchdog in 2008 and has handled hundreds of cases—which range from killings to sexual assault to obstruction of justice—since its formation.
"This is a new step for ASIRT — not one we shirk from, but it is setting new ground for ASIRT, for sure," Hughson said.
In a statement, Alberta RCMP Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki said that Stenger has 12 years of policing experience and Brown has four. The officers are set to appear in court on July 14. After killing the 31-year-old man, the two officers were removed from the force but were later reinstated and allowed to return to duty during ASIRT’s investigation.
After being charged for killing Crawford, the officers have been suspended from service without pay.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.