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This article was published 2/4/2009 (2944 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A Winnipeg police officer has been charged with attempted murder for shooting an unarmed man in the back -- then allegedly trying to cover up the crime by fabricating evidence with his partner that suggested he acted in self-defence.
The pair -- both six-year members whose names will be released this morning -- was arrested Thursday following an extensive internal investigation by the professional standards unit and consultation with Manitoba Justice officials and a private legal counsel.
Kristofer Shawn Fournier, who is now 20, escaped serious injury after being hit in the buttocks by one of several police bullets fired at him in July 2007. His former lawyer, Chris Sigurdson, believes the shooting of his client may have been "personal."
Fournier and at least one of the officers apparently knew each other from an incident just days earlier in which police tried to pull him over but he sped away and escaped.
"The first thing he told me was that he heard one of the officers yelling 'Shoot him, shoot him.' Then he heard the shots," Sigurdson said Thursday. "He claimed they were angry at him for what happened earlier."
The incident began in the early-morning hours of July 16 with an armed robbery at a 7-Eleven store on Portage Avenue and Hampton Street. Several officers responded to the incident, and Fournier was spotted driving a stolen Yukon SUV in the area. Police tried to pull him over and a short chase ensued. It ended at the corner of Grant Avenue and Lindsay Street when the cruiser car and SUV collided.
Fournier ran away -- not wanting to be caught with a stash of drugs in his position -- only to be hit with gunfire.
According to a police report given to Sigurdson, two officers had split up while chasing Fournier in River Heights when one of them slipped and injured his ankle. Fournier had briefly disappeared, only to "spring out of the bushes" and try to wrestle the downed officer's gun away.
"I thought at the time (the police statement) was clearly ridiculous," said Sigurdson, who believes the report now forms the basis of the fabricating-evidence charges.
"I keep hearing in media reports about how this shooting came after a confrontation. There was no damn confrontation. He wasn't aggressive towards police in any way," he said.
Police charged Fournier with several offences -- including assaulting a police officer and attempting to disarm -- which were later dropped. He was never implicated in the 7-Eleven robbery and police said Thursday he was not involved in that incident.
Fournier later pleaded guilty to having a quantity of cocaine and ecstasy on him that night. He is now believed to be living with family in Alberta.
Following the shooting, police refused to provide even basic information to the public about the case while the two officers quickly hired prominent defence lawyers, Hymie Weinstein and Richard Wolson. Police finally agreed to begin their internal investigation only after Sigurdson raised concerns about the circumstances of the shooting in a series of Free Press stories.
"I was pleasantly surprised when I heard the news. It's not easy for people to make allegations against police. It's good to see they're not above the law, that they can be charged for their actions," Sigurdson said. "I feel somewhat vindicated that the initial concerns I had have been followed up on."
Winnipeg Police Service Chief Keith McCaskill said that after the shooting the two officers were on inside duties involving no public contact. They were placed on administrative leave Thursday. McCaskill told a hastily called news conference that he had not spoken directly to the two officers.
"What I can tell you is an incident occurred. I can't speak too specifically about it. An incident occurred where there was a robbery, a car chase ensued, an accident occurred, officers chased a suspect, shots were fired, officers provided some information, and as a result of this investigation these are the charges. I can't get into it more than that," he said.
McCaskill said the "troubling" charges are concerning for the organization and more information will become available during the court process. He couldn't say if there will be a review of other cases the officers have handled.
"I think, first of all, we have to look at exactly what we have here and make a determination of their status, and determinations in that regard will certainly be looked at in the future," he said. "I want to be open as much as I can here. I want to be careful that I'm not providing information prior to the court proceeding. I want this to be a case (where) all the evidence is looked at very clearly so that there's no indication that I'm trying to skew things this way or that way. The officers have to have a fair trial and the court has to have all the evidence as well."
This case is the third in the past 14 months in which Winnipeg police officers have been at the centre of scandal.
Const. Graeme Beattie and Const. Paul Clark were charged last month with fabricating evidence and obstructing justice in connection with the arrest of a man on drug charges, which were later stayed. Const. Peter O'Kane and Const. Jess Zebrun -- the stepson of former police chief Jack Ewatski -- were charged in January 2008 with perjury after allegedly lying to a magistrate in order to obtain a drug search warrant. Charges against the suspects were thrown out as a result.
"On one hand, you could look at this and say 'Well, the system works, they're finding these things out,'" said Sigurdson. "But on the other hand, you wonder if we're just seeing the tip of the iceberg?"
Breakdown of a
Excerpts from Free Press stories after police shot Kristofer Shawn Fournier in July 2007 show difficulties in getting accurate information.
The day after the shooting, police said that when officers tried to apprehend the suspect, he fought with officers, an officer's gun fired and the teen was shot in the lower body. Media spokeswoman Const. Jacqueline Chaput said police had yet to charge the injured young man in connection with the incident.
Two days after the incident, Fournier's lawyer, Chris Sigurdson, said Fournier heard an officer yell, "Shoot him, shoot him" moments before he was hit by a bullet. "He thought they were kidding, but the next thing he knew, they started shooting." Sigurdson said there was no indication in the written report he was given by police that there was any kind of struggle between his client and police.
"We don't know why he was shot," Sigurdson said. "There was no indication that he was armed, there was no indication he was coming at anybody, and there was no indication he was aggressive in any way."
Four days after the shooting, police still declined to answer basic questions about the incident, saying only that Fournier was charged with several offences and that the investigation was continuing. "The last thing I'm going to do is speculate about what happened," media spokesman Sgt. Kelly Dennison said.
The lack of information stumped media and Fournier's lawyer. "We would like some answers and I think the public would like some answers. The public needs to be assured that what the police do is proper," Sigurdson said. "The longer it takes for them to come up with an answer, the more suspicious things get."
The two officers involved in the incident hired lawyers Richard Wolson and Hymie Weinstein to act for them. The lawyers declined to comment on the matter.
Two weeks after the incident, the police charged Fournier with attempting to disarm police, which caught Sigurdson by surprise. Police reports supplied to him said the two officers had split up while chasing Fournier in River Heights when one of them slipped and injured his ankle. Fournier had briefly disappeared, only to "spring out of the bushes" and try to wrestle the downed officer's gun away. Fournier was not successful, but the police report still makes no mention of the shooting, including which officer fired, when it happened or how many shots were fired. Sigurdson said he found the revelations "suspicious."
Fournier, who denied trying to grab the officer's gun, was also charged with dangerous driving and flight from police stemming from an incident that allegedly occurred five days before the shooting.
On Aug. 2, 2007, the police said the professional standards unit began looking into the shooting. Chaput said the unit joined the probe because of allegations raised by Fournier's lawyer in the media about the level of force used. Chaput said the PSU would examine the level of force used to see if it was justified under the circumstances. Chaput also said the PSU was being brought in because of staffing issues within the department during the busy summer months.
-- Source: Free Press files