THUNDER BAY – Ontario’s police watchdog has concluded its investigation into the actions of two OPP officers who shot at a suspect in Hurkett during a pursuit in March, finding no grounds for criminal charges.
Suspect Andrew Plummer, a 34-year-old Brampton man, fled Thunder Bay on March 8 after allegedly shooting someone in the intercity area earlier that day.
Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) invoked its mandate to investigate after two OPP officers discharged their weapons during a pursuit of Plummer in the Hurkett area, about 80 kilometres east of Thunder Bay.
One of those officers fired up to 26 rounds at the suspect and his vehicle.
In a report issued Wednesday, SIU director Joseph Martino concluded there were no grounds to believe the officers committed a criminal offence.
However, he said that was partly because limited evidence left him “unable to arrive at an understanding of what precisely occurred at the time of the shootings with any degree of confidence.”
Both subject officers declined to be interviewed by SIU investigators or share their notes, as they are legally entitled to do. Plummer also declined to be interviewed by the SIU, as did one civilian witness.
Martino relied on testimony from other police officers involved in the pursuit, logs of radio communications, and forensic evidence from the vehicles involved to reach his conclusion.
The search began on March 8 after Thunder Bay police officers responded to a shooting at a Forest Street residence shortly before 1 p.m., after reports of a seriously injured male in the area.
The Thunder Bay Police Service issued a ‘Be on the Look-out’ for a Kia vehicle travelling eastward on Highway 11/17, alerting other police forces a suspect in a local shooting was believed to be fleeing toward Toronto.
An OPP officer named as Subject Officer 1 in Martino’s report was among those who responded from Red Rock. They spotted the Kia and began to follow it eastward at a distance.
Meanwhile, other officers set up spike belts across the eastbound lanes of the highway further east, near the intersection with Davis Road.
The Kia, operated by a woman, came to a stop before the spike belt. The woman turned off the engine, dropped the keys onto the roadway, and exited the vehicle with her hands up at the direction of police.
Plummer, seated in the back, at that point climbed into the driver’s seat, retrieved the keys, and sped away, pulling a U-turn to head west on the highway, toward the Hurkett area, according to Martino’s report.
Officers, who were under orders not to closely pursue the suspect, instead followed behind at 85 km/h.
The vehicle made its way onto Highway 582, where it turned to travel north on Nuttall Road – a dead-end road about 200 metres long.
Subject Officer 1 set up a roadblock with his cruiser and a spike belt at the entrance to Nuttall Road, while another officer proceeded north up Nuttall to locate the vehicle.
About halfway up the road, the officer noticed the Kia travelling south towards him, with Plummer allegedly “holding a gun pointed out through the open window.”
The officer leaned over towards the middle of his cruiser, while Plummer allegedly fired one shot through the cruiser’s open driver’s window. The bullet missed the officer and struck the inside of the front passenger door, the SIU report concludes.
The Kia was able to veer over a snowbank to elude Subject Officer 1’s roadblock. That’s when the officer fired two or three rounds from his C-8 rifle toward the Kia, Martino said.
Plummer again tried to evade another OPP roadblock as he drove on Highway 582 back towards Highway 11/17, but this time, his car became stuck on top of the snowbank.
He allegedly exited with gun in hand, and fled into the bush on the east side of the road. Martino found evidence he fired his weapon at least once in the direction of the officers manning the roadblock, including an OPP officer identified as Subject Officer 2, and a constable from a First Nations police service.
Both officers fired at the vehicle and the suspect around that time, with Subject Officer 2 discharging 25 or 26 rounds, and the other constable firing 27 or 28 times.
Hours later, Plummer emerged onto Highway 11/17 and surrendered to an OPP officer. A semi-automatic pistol was located a short distance away.
Forensic examination of that gun, and the officers’ rifles, had not yet been completed by the time the SIU issued its report. Bullet fragments were located in the door of one of the OPP cruisers.
While Martino found a lack of evidence made it difficult to determine with certainty, he said the available evidence indicated the officers had reasonable cause to believe firing their weapons was necessary to protect their own lives and the lives of others.
The fact that Plummer was a suspect in a shooting earlier that day and had shot at another OPP officer during the attempted arrest both established the suspect’s “propensity for lethal violence,” he said.
“What evidence there is… lends itself to the proposition that the subject officials might well have fired their rifles in the reasonable belief that it was necessary to protect themselves from grievous bodily harm or death.”
“While the sheer number of shots fired by Subject Officer 2 - up to 26 rounds - gives rise to concern, in the absence of some reasonably-based factual context suggesting the gunfire was excessive, I am unable to conclude that it was not legally justified.”
The First Nations constable is believed to have fired his own rifle a similar number of times, but First Nations Constables do not fall within the SIU’s mandate. That officer also declined to cooperate with the SIU investigation, as he is legally entitled to do.
The case involved three SIU investigators and one forensic investigator, the agency reported.
Thunder Bay police have since laid charges of attempted murder and illegal possession of a firearm against Plummer, and charged 25-year-old Toronto woman Drew Brosnan Georgina McKenzie with accessory after the fact.