Officer who shot Whitstone testifies on third day of coroner's inquest

From battlefordsNOW
December 5, 2018 - 10:33am Updated: December 6, 2018 - 1:29pm

Dorothy Laboucane spoke outside Court of Queen's Bench Wednesday afternoon during the coroner's inquest into the death of her son Brydon Whitstone.

After hearing three days worth of testimony from witnesses on scene the night of Oct. 21, 2017, including the officer who shot her son, paramedics, forensic investigators and Amanda Wahobin, the passenger in Whitstone's car, she believes the night could have had a different outcome.

"They just wanted to play the hero. There were other ways of subduing him," she said while holding back tears.

The police could have shot him in the arm or Tasered him, she said, and her son would still be here and none of this would be going on.

"My son would be in jail," she said. "But he isn't."

Const. Jerry Abbott is the officer who shot and killed Whitstone. He said he fired his weapon in response to what he saw as a threat to life..

Abbott said he fired a second shot because Whitstone was still moving after the first. Abbott saw Whitstone, who he said initially had both hands on the steering wheel of the white Buick LeSabre, then reach both hands into his pants. 

He testified that he believed Whitstone was trying to find something in his pants, which Abbott suspected to be a gun. 

After he shot Whitstone, he and RCMP officer Marco Johnson pulled Whitstone out of the broken window. Then, Abbott performed CPR compressions on Whitstone before the paramedics arrived to try to resuscitate him.

Abbott said he wasn’t concerned about any risk of cross-fire when he shot Whitstone, because of the angle of his pistol.

He said he aimed for Whitstone’s chest "to stop the threat.”

Under questioning, Abbott mentioned his RCMP training helped because he said he did not hesitate at the time of the incident.

He told the court the incident was a high-risk situation as he had been told the vehicle was already involved in a drive-by shooting. As well, with a passenger in the vehicle and other officers at the scene, he said there was a risk to life.

RCMP Const. Greg Hugo was at the scene and had his gun drawn. 

Hugo said he was concerned the driver was rolling the vehicle back and forth from where the vehicle came to rest. 

Hugo said he went to the driver's side door but couldn’t open it because it was damaged, so he and officer Marco Johnson both tried to pull Whitstone’s left arm through the window and remove him before the shots were fired.

Hugo said he knew Whitstone from a prior encounter and when he saw Whitstone fading after being shot he yelled, “Come on Brydon; stay with us.” 

Prior to the shots, he said he heard someone say to watch for the crossfire.

Hugo likewise believed the incident was a high-risk situation due to a number of factors; Whitstone was suspected to have a weapon, the vehicle was still rolling back and forth after being boxed in, and the driver didn’t comply with RCMP commands to stop and surrender.

Const. Trevor Sowers also took the stand and said when he was on the scene he saw Whitstone’s hand go under his pants. He said he had considered shooting but was worried about the possibility of cross-fire since there were other officers in the vicinity. 

Sowers said initially the LeSabre’s windows were fogged up until the windows were smashed by the RCMP and pepper spray was discharged. Sowers said the windshield of the vehicle didn’t appear to be fogged over, however.

Moments before Whitstone was shot, Sowers said he was at the front of the vehicle, focused on the driver’s seat. He said he saw Whitstone’s right hand go down under his pants. 

“I thought he was getting a gun,” Sowers said. “I’ve never seen someone so motivated to want to get away from us."

Before lunch, Const. Marco Johnson testified and said he was on duty when RCMP were pursuing Whitstone’s vehicle in North Battleford. 

Johnson was driving a Chevrolet Tahoe which was struck by the white Buick LeSabre Whitstone was driving. 

Johnson said he estimated the LeSabre was travelling at 80 to 100 kilometres per hour in an alley when it hit a Ford Escape, a fence, and then his Tahoe. Johnson said he got out of his vehicle and was holding his pistol as he looked and ran to take cover behind a tree.

He said the inside of the vehicle was starting to fog up, making it difficult for him to see inside. Johnson then ran up and broke the glass of the driver's side window, took cover once again, and then returned and broke the passenger side window.

He said he tried to pull Whitstone's hands off the steering wheel but was only able to get his left arm out. 

"I pulled hard," he said.

He then tried to extract Whitstone from the vehicle, but he resisted. Johnson said he saw Whitstone’s right hand go down towards his pants. At the same time, he heard other officers shouting at Whitstone to show his hands but Whitstone did not respond. Johnson said if he couldn’t pull Whitstone out by the arm he planned to pull him out by his hair. 

He said after Whitstone’s right hand went down, he feared he was reaching for a weapon, and heard two gunshots go off just seconds apart, but did not know which officer fired.

"I recalled him gurgling," he told the court.

He and another officer then removed Whitstone from the car while another performed CPR. Johnson said he stayed at the scene in a state of shock and later went with Whitstone's body to the hospital.

Const. Garrett Dove was in the Ford Explorer that Whitstone hit that night. He testified that after his vehicle was struck and thrown he had to leave it due to the amount of damage. 

He got out of his vehicle and pulled out his firearm because of a possible "life or death" situation. 

Dove said the RCMP did release pepper spray into Whitstone’s vehicle.

Debbie Baptise, the mother of Colten Boushie, arrived again today to support the family.

See held signs reading First Nations Lives Matter and Justice for Brydon.

Presiding coroner Robert Kennedy said the witness questioning was expected to wrap up Thursday, with three more set to testify.

Kennedy said the jury will then be sequestered Friday. Jurors will decide on any recommendations on how to avoid a death similar to Whitstone's in the future.

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On Twitter: @JournoMarr, @OCoureurDesBois

More testimony in coroner's inquest

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