Decision not to charge Winnipeg officer who shot First Nations man shows need for change: grand chief

A Winnipeg officer who fatally shot a 22-year-old man while responding to an alleged assault last year won’t face charges, Manitoba’s police watchdog says.

It’s another example of why changes are needed in police oversight in the province, particularly where Indigenous people are involved, says the grand chief of an advocacy organization.

The Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba said in a news release Thursday that it had concluded its investigation into the death of Stewart Kevin Andrews, who was killed in April 2020.

The fatal police shooting was the third involving an Indigenous person in the city in a 10-day period, and followed the deaths of 16-year-old Eishia Hudson and 36-year-old Jason Collins. None of the incidents resulted in charges against a police officer.

The Manitoba Prosecution Service advised the investigation unit in early November — nearly eight months after receiving the file — there wasn’t a reasonable likelihood of conviction in the case, according to the police watchdog.

Garrison Settee, grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, said the latest report “just goes to show that we’re so far from where we need to be.”

Garrison Settee, grand chief of political advocacy group Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, said the watchdog’s latest finding shows why changes are needed in police oversight in Manitoba. (CTV pool camera)

“Our people matter. Our people are not less than anybody else, and they should not be treated unfairly, and they should not be killed as if it’s of no consequence,” he said at a Thursday news conference, alongside leaders from God’s Lake First Nation in northern Manitoba and two members of Andrews’s family, who declined to speak.

That means adding Indigenous oversight at the unit, which currently has no Indigenous members, he said.

“This is a travesty. It is a tragedy that has happened and that leaves many victims in [its] wake. The family and the victims are suffering, and there’s no resources. There’s no support. There’s no justice for them.”

Settee said MKO is going to continue working with the investigative unit and the province to ensure changes are made to prevent similar deaths in the future.

Should have used other means: chief

On the day Andrews was killed, police said they were responding to a report that two males had assaulted someone near a home on Adsum Drive in north Winnipeg just after 4 a.m., the watchdog’s final report said.

Police said a man who was taking out the garbage told them he was confronted by the males, who demanded cash. The man said one of the assailants hit him twice with a shovel, while the other appeared to have a gun.

That person — previously identified as a 16-year-old boy, who was safely taken into custody that morning — later told police the weapon he had was a BB gun, the report said.

One of the officers who responded to the call was a handler with a police dog, who said he saw two males in a back lane when he got there. One of them, later determined to be Andrews, was holding what appeared to be a long metal pipe, the officer said.

The dog handler said he yelled at Andrews to drop the pipe, but he refused and instead swung it several times. The officer said he didn’t let his dog go because he was afraid it would be killed.

An expert on training police dogs consulted during the investigation said handlers are told not to send their dogs at an armed subject.

Andrews’s death in April 2020 was the third fatal police shooting involving an Indigenous person in the city in a 10-day period. (Submitted by Alexcia Andrews)

But the leaders who spoke at Thursday’s news conference wondered if Andrews would still be alive if the officer had tried to use his dog before another officer used his gun.

“It seems like a dog’s life is more valuable than a First Nations person,” said God’s Lake Chief Hubert Watt.

“There were other means of restraining this young guy.”

Officer followed training: report

The officer who shot Andrews told IIU investigators through notes and a prepared statement that the 22-year-old started swinging the pipe like a baseball bat and took a few steps toward him. That’s when the officer said he fired five rounds at Andrews’s chest, killing him.

That officer did not agree to an interview with investigators, which is allowed under current laws in Manitoba.

The teen who was with Andrews that morning didn’t give a formal statement either, though he did tell investigators that Andrews was not armed with a weapon and that the two had been drinking together that night and morning.

The police watchdog, which is mandated to investigate whenever a person dies because of police actions, said it also interviewed three other officers and several civilians as witnesses.

It also got an expert’s opinion on use of force, which said the officer’s actions “were aligned with his training.”

The watchdog said it met with Andrews’s family and representatives from MKO on Tuesday to relay the findings before they were published.

God’s Lake First Nation Chief Hubert Watt held a photo of Andrews wearing a graduation cap at Thursday’s news conference. (CTV pool camera)

Watt said there will also be a meeting on God’s Lake First Nation, about 550 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, where members of Andrews’s family live — including his two-year-old son.

“He had high hopes, high ambitions, and a good future,” Watt said, holding a photo of Andrews wearing a graduation cap.

“Far too many times, we have lost First Nations people to one of these kinds of incidents, and things have to change. Things have to be better.

“The police have to deal with First Nations people a lot better. They have to learn more about First Nations people. It seems like they do not care.”

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