SURREY, B.C. - RCMP officers tried to use a Taser to subdue a distraught former Canadian military peacekeeper during a confrontation at his rural northern British Columbia property but the device was ineffective, says an independent report that cleared RCMP officers of any criminal wrongdoing in the death of Greg Matters last September.
A canine unit was at the scene, but Matters had a hatchet and the dog was not deployed. Another officer armed with a bean-bag rifle did not have a clear line of fire, said the report released Wednesday by the province's Independent Investigations Office.
Believing he was about to strike an officer with the hatchet, a member of the force's North District Emergency Response Team fired two bullets into his chest.
Matters — a 15-year veteran of the Canadian Forces, a former peacekeeper who served in Bosnia, a man in treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder — died at the rural property he shared with his mother near Prince George, B.C.
"It was a very chaotic scene," one officer told investigators. "People are yelling. Matters is yelling, and I see (an officer) deploy a Taser, and I hear a quiet pop from the Taser. And immediately after that, Matters has the ... hatchet ... above his head."
The stun gun was an attempt to safely arrest Matters, the report said. It does not clarify whether the stun gun failed or if it was simply not effective, and the office was unable to provide any further clarification.
The Matters family was bitterly disappointed by the final report. They have said Matters was not suicidal, and was showing improvements after finally getting treatment for his PTSD.
"We believe this could all have been avoided. Greg had surrendered, and there were some very bad decisions made in the heat of the moment," his sister, Tracey Matters, said.
"We are very shocked and still bewildered about why an emergency response team armed with machine guns actually was deployed and we still don't have answers about why that happened."
The report details the incident that began almost two days before, with a confrontation between Matters and his brother and ended as Matters, after hours of negotiations, proceeded toward what all hoped would be a peaceful surrender.
But a helicopter deployed as part of the emergency response "freaked him out," officers told investigators, and within minutes the 40-year-old former soldier was dead.
"The shooting officer reported that at the time he shot, it was immediately after the Taser proved itself to be ineffective. He believed that Mr. Matters was about to strike another member of the emergency response team with a hatchet and was about to cause death or grievous bodily harm and as such Mr. Matters was shot and killed," said Richard Rosenthal, chief civilian director of the Independent Investigations Office.
The report said that while there are inconsistencies in the officers' testimony, the differences don't appear to be an attempt to deceive. They had been told that Matters was threatening "suicide by cop."
Tracy Matters said they hope to get more answers from the RCMP public complaints commission.
Richard Evans, the commission's senior director, said it has instigated its own public interest review that will look at whether the officers involved complied with policies and procedures, and whether the policies in place are adequate.
The coroner's service will also conduct an inquest.
The force expressed condolences again Wednesday to the Matters family.
"On that day, our intention was always to bring about a peaceful resolution for everyone involved — Mr. Gregory Matters and the police officers who responded. However, we acknowledge the tragic conclusion has created unimaginable grief for the Matters family and has also deeply impacted the many RCMP officers and staff involved," said a statement from RCMP.
Matters said she wants what happened to her brother to bring about changes that will prevent other veterans from going through the same thing.
"I'm hoping that there is a focus on improved communication and contact and connection with veterans who find themselves in these types of situations," she said.
The family plans to file a complaint with the RCMP about what they say was a police assault on Greg's mother as she tried to reach him that night. They said Lorraine Matters was given permission to speak to her son, but when she attempted to reach him an officer pointed a machine gun at her, caused her to fall to the ground and dragged her along the road.
"She was treated as an active threat by police, rather than as an ally in negotiating a peaceful outcome," the family said in a statement.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association said the independent report raises more questions than answers, because the broader issues lie outside the very limited mandate of Rosenthal's office. The association said has filed its own complaint with the RCMP complaints commission.
Rosenthal said he looked only at criminal culpability on the part of police officers.
"There are unanswered questions from the investigation," he said. "That's one of the reasons it's going over to the RCMP and the CPC, and one of the reasons why the coroner's service, I believe, is going to be conducting an inquest."
Matters' family was given the Memorial Cross award just two weeks ago, an award that recognizes soldiers whose deaths are linked to their military service.