The officers involved in the police intervention that led to the July 2018 death of Riley Fairholm in Lac-Brome testified Tuesday at the Sherbrooke Courthouse on the second day of the public inquiry.
• Also read: Public inquiry into Riley Fairholm’s death begins
In particular, the victim’s mother, Tracy Wing, accused the police of shooting too quickly and killing the 17-year-old at the same time.
On the day of the events, Sergeant Wallace McGovern received a call from a witness reporting the presence of an armed person at a crisis outside the IGA du Lac-Brome.
Little did the police officer know that the witness who called the police was the same person who had drawn a gun in the supermarket parking lot.
Sergeant McGovern and his partner arrived first at the intersection of Route 104 and Victoria Street, quickly followed by three other police cars, who turned off their lights so as not to startle the suspect.
After scanning the scene with an illuminating white light, the sergeant saw a person dressed in black with a gun in his left hand. The man screamed and brandished his gun. According to Constable Wallace McGovern, it was impossible to tell if it was a real firearm or just an air pistol.
At one point, he hears suspect Riley Fairholm claim he’s been “waiting for this for five years.” The sergeant believes he has spoken about the confrontation and, seeing the teenager approaching the squad cars, returns to his car to address the suspect over the loudspeaker.
During the intervention, the sergeant thought of a similar operation that took place in Moncton four years earlier, in which one person killed three RCMP officers and injured two others.
“I told him if he put down his gun everything will be fine,” Sergeant Wallace McGovern testified. As far as I can remember, I asked him three times. But he remained excited and pointed his gun in our direction as he walked toward us.
“I stared intently at his hand holding the gun. If he had aimed at me, I would have shot. Then I heard a shot and saw him fall to the ground. I don’t know what I could have done differently,” the witness added, given his short reaction time.
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At the hearing, he specifically addressed the teenager’s parents, who listened to his testimony. “Mental health problems and mental stress are on the increase. As a society, we can and must do better. We have to find solutions,” he said.
“Can Riley’s short time among us help prevent a repeat of such a tragedy?” asked coroner Géhane Kamel at the hearing.
According to some friends of Riley Fairholm, he was suffering from malaise. Unfortunately, he died after being shot in the head by a police officer.
Two other police officers who took part in the intervention that killed Riley Fairholm in July 2018 gave their versions of events Tuesday afternoon.
Lysanne Cinq-Mars said she felt her life was in danger in front of the gun-wielding teenager.
Given the agitation the suspect was in and not following orders from his colleagues, using force was the only way to control him, the officer said.
In particular, she said, like Sergeant McGovern, that the teenager continued to scream as he swung his gun at the squad cars.
While she had her sights on the suspect at chest level, it was her colleague Joël Desbrooks who fired once, hitting the teenager in the head.
When the victim’s mother arrived at the scene, she thought her son had taken his own life. She also gave Agent Cinq-Mars an emergency letter that her son had left in his room.
Later, agent Geneviève Racine, also from Sûreté du Québec (SQ), had to tell the mother how her son died. As a result, Ms Wing only found out at Brome-Missisquoi-Perkins Hospital that police had shot and killed Riley Fairholm, without being able to go into details since the investigation was later turned over to the independent Bureau of Investigations (BEI ).
More police officers are due to testify on Wednesday, including Constable Desbrooks, who is responsible for the shooting that caused the teenager’s death.