A Long Plain First Nation family is angry the police officers they called last week to help 23-year-old Ben Richard fatally shot him Tuesday night.
The incident marks the first time since the province’s police watchdog came into operation in 2015, that it is investigating a shooting involving a Manitoba First Nations Police (MFNP) officer.
Richard was shot within minutes of MFNP officers arriving at a residence at the reserve southwest of Portage la Prairie. They were responding to a report of a man armed with a rifle.
Tammy Smith, Richard’s cousin, said she was outside the house in a pickup truck with Richard’s mother, when three officers spotted the man through a window and began shooting at him.
'They were all outside, shooting through the walls and windows. They never even entered the house... If they had been RCMP officers, it would have been handled differently'— Tammy Smith
"I was backing up to see if I could see Ben, when all the shots came from the (police)," Smith said Wednesday. "I’m pretty sure they all unloaded their clips. We just started screaming."
Smith said the family is angry the incident wasn’t handled differently.
"It should not have escalated to that point," she said. "They should have waited for more people. They should have tried to wait it out.
"They were all outside, shooting through the walls and windows. They never even entered the house... If they had been RCMP officers, it would have been handled differently."
A spokeswoman for the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba (IIU), which looks into all serious incidents involving on- or off-duty police, said the MFNP notified it Tuesday officers had responded to a report of a man armed with a rifle in a residence around 6 p.m., "resulting in one or more officers discharging their firearms and striking the man."
Richard was pronounced dead at the scene.
The IIU said it is investigating, and made a public appeal for anyone with information to contact the agency (1-844-667-6060).
Smith said before police were called Tuesday, Richard was firing a gun at his bedroom ceiling and outside a window facing a vacant field. His mother was trying to convince him to give her the weapon, she said.
"I think it was a cry for help," Smith said. "He kept on telling (his mother) to leave. He wasn’t trying to shoot anyone. It seems he was just shooting his anger out... Now his mother is beating herself up, saying she should have stayed inside."
Smith described her cousin as "a gentle giant. He wouldn’t have harmed anyone... He was an all-around great person."
However, Smith said in the last year, since her brother, who was close to Richard, died, the man had become depressed.
"His mother, last week, called the (police) to take him to the hospital so he could be assessed," she said. "But when they came and talked to him, they said he wasn’t a threat to anyone. Then a week later, they come back and shoot him."
Patricia Richard accused officers of being "trigger-happy."
"They knew my brother needed help a few days before anything happened," she said from her home in Winnipeg. "He was unstable. Everyone saw the signs.
"I believe what happened could have been 100 per cent preventable."
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.
Updated on Thursday, April 4, 2019 at 6:38 AM CDT: Adds photo