Public Inquiry into Riley Fairholm’s death: Hearings closed

After six days of hearings, coroner Géhane Kamel’s public inquiry into the events that killed Riley Fairholm, the teenager who was shot dead during a police operation in 2018, is now closed.

After hearing more than a dozen witnesses, the coroner will write her report and make her recommendations to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.

On the night of July 25, 2018, the 17-year-old teenager was shot in the head during a police operation on Chemin Knowlton in Lac-Brome.

Officials were responding to an 911 call about an armed person in crisis, a call from Riley Fairholm himself after he left a suicide note earlier in the evening.

The young man was in psychological distress and suffering from an indisposition. At the time of the intervention, which lasted just 61 seconds, he was brandishing a pistol in front of police.

Nothing is all white or all black; There was a context for the police operation which was classified as a high risk situation.

Retired SPVM police officer and crisis intervention coach Michael Arruda came to offer his opinion at the request of Riley Fairholm’s family. According to him, the mere formal repetition of dropping a weapon can cause a subject to enter survival mode.

“The first three to five minutes are crucial. The longer an intervention lasts, the greater the chances that it can be resolved peacefully,” Arruda explained.

None of the other experts disagreed with him, but in the case of Riley Fairholm several elements had to be considered.

Nothing let police know that the 9mm weapon wielded by the 17-year-old teenager was actually an airgun. The police didn’t know who they were dealing with and the setting, the parking lot of an abandoned restaurant in the dark, didn’t allow for isolation.

Annie Gendron studied nearly thirty files of people who died or were seriously injured in connection with interventions for people in need or with suicidal thoughts. The context does not always allow her to defuse a tense and threatening situation.

“It is difficult for the police to clearly determine the intentions of the crisis person. Depending on the nature of the threat, they don’t always have the luxury of time without endangering the safety of other police officers and civilians,” she said.

His colleague from the École Nationale de Police du Québec and advisor on the use of force Bruno Poulin sees the urgency for action in this case.

Because of the proximity of the squad cars to the victim and because his aggressive behavior continued despite repeated orders to drop his gun, it was legitimate for Constable Joël Desruisseaux to shoot Riley Fairhom, who continued to point his gun at the officers.

It should be noted that following the investigation by the BEI, the Chief of Law and Law Enforcement decided not to press charges against the police officers involved.

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