An independent review has ruled no criminal charges will be laid in a police shooting investigators have described as a tragic case of suicide by cop.
Haki Sefa, 44, was shot and killed by Winnipeg Police Service officers who pulled him over outside city limits on Sept. 20, 2015.
The Independent Investigation Unit’s report, released Thursday, considered whether Winnipeg Police Service officers acted properly in pulling over Sefa and, later, shooting him. It found they did, and deemed the shooting justified.
Sefa, who was not named in the report, pointed a pistol at police as he stepped out of the white van he was driving after being pulled over, leaving officers with no other option but to shoot him, said Ron MacDonald, director of the Serious Incident Response Team in Nova Scotia.
MacDonald stepped in to oversee the review because of a conflict of interest with IIU civilian director Zane Tessler, who, in his previous work as a Crown attorney, had some involvement with Sefa.
"The officers’ evidence about what occurred that day was credible. It painted the situation of a male who chose to end his life by instigating police to shoot at him, something which is a recurring circumstance in Canada, quite unfortunately.
"This case is a tragedy, yet the male’s actions left these officers with little choice but to fire upon him. Thus their actions were justified at law and there are no grounds for charges," MacDonald said at a news conference Thursday morning.
Many times throughout the evening of Sept. 20, 2015, several of Sefa’s family members called 911 warning Sefa may have been armed and headed to Selkirk to hurt himself and possibly a young male, the report says.
His relatives reported that Sefa, a father of four who owned a plumbing business, was depressed. His girlfriend had broken up with him days earlier, he was dealing with the recent death of his 21-year-old niece, and a relative had made criminal accusations against the young male in Selkirk.
The family members reported to police that evening that Sefa had left a bag of money and letters in his brother's yard. The letters said Sefa was planning on killing himself, his brother told police.
Just before 10:30 p.m., after a 21-kilometre pursuit, tactical support unit officers in two SUVs boxed him in and forced him to stop along Highway 59 near Bird's Hill park.
Sefa got out of the van and pointed his gun at the officer driving the SUV in front, MacDonald said.
"The driver thought he was going to be shot and killed. The three other officers had their guns at the ready and fired at the male. He was struck four times, two shots causing fatal injuries."
The sequence of events was confirmed by examining forensic evidence, including damage to Sefa’s pistol caused by police bullets "as would be expected had the gun been pointed straight ahead at the driver of the front vehicle, with the shot coming from the right-hand side. That is entirely consistent with what the officer said, that the gentleman opened the door, pointed the gun, and after which they fired," MacDonald said.
Forensic testing of Sefa’s van and all firearms involved – officers also found a sawed-off shotgun inside the vehicle along with more than 50 rounds of ammunition – had to be done at the RCMP lab in Ottawa and contributed to much of the delay in completing the investigation, MacDonald said.
The police officers involved have all returned to active duty and Sefa’s family has been informed of the review's outcome, MacDonald said.
"They had lots of questions. However they, at the end of the day, understood the circumstance and were accepting of our findings. It was a good meeting," he said.
Sefa’s relatives could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday.
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.
Updated on Thursday, January 12, 2017 at 1:41 PM CST: Adds details, link to full report.