Man fatally shot by Winnipeg police in 2019 was on meth, threatened officers with hatchet: inquest report

A man who was fatally shot by police in Winnipeg’s West End in 2019 was under the influence of drugs, armed with a hatchet and “a very real threat” to officers, according to a Manitoba provincial court judge.

The final report by Judge Julie Frederickson in her inquest into the death of Chad Johnathan Williams, 26, was released Thursday.

He was shot seven times on Jan. 11, 2019, in vacant lot on Sherbrook Street, just south of Sargent Avenue, following a brief chase by police officers responding to a report of  a domestic assault involving a weapon.

When police caught him, Williams was holding a hatchet and raised it in a threatening manner, according to Judge Frederickson’s inquest report, dated Oct. 14.

Officers told him to drop his weapon and attempted to use a Taser to stop him, but the stun gun didn’t discharge properly, the inquest report says.

At that point, Williams attempted to throw the hatchet at police and officers shot him in his arm, thighs, abdomen and back.

He taken by ambulance to the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg and died the next day.

“I am satisfied that it was a genuine attempt to throw, and not simply to drop the weapon,” Frederickson wrote in her report.

“The use of lethal force was in response to the very real threat,” she said, since if Williams had thrown the hatchet, “it was foreseeable that one of the officers could have been struck and seriously injured.”

The officers’ use of force “was consistent with their training and appropriate in the circumstances,” Frederickson said.

Williams, 26, was shot by police on Sherbrook Street, south of Sargent Avenue, on Jan. 11, 2019. He was wielding a hatchet and was poised to throw it at police before they shot him, according to an inquest report. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Witnesses testified during the inquest that they didn’t see Williams wielding a weapon and disputed the use of force.

However, the hatchet was found at the scene, and Williams was seen in security camera footage from the area holding it in a threatening manner, the judge said.

Manitoba’s police watchdog, the Independent Investigation Unit, cleared the officers involved of any charges in September 2019, calling their use of force “justified and unavoidable.” 

Chief medical examiner Dr. John K. Younes called an inquest into Williams’s death in October 2019, in accordance with The Fatality Inquiries Act, which requires an inquest if a person is believed to have died from use of force by an on-duty police officer.

The results of Williams’s autopsy were included in the IIU’s September 2019 report. That autopsy found methamphetamine and amphetamine in his system.

In the inquest report released Thursday, a forensic specialist noted the level of meth in his system would be considered a high dose. That would bring feelings of intense euphoria, rapidly flowing thoughts and feelings of increased abilities, along with an increased risk of experiencing hallucinations and delusions, the report says.

Williams also had a drug in his system used to treat clinical depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive behaviour, as well as Valium, a depressant.

Police investigate after Williams was fatally shot in January 2019. In September of that year, Manitoba’s police watchdog cleared officers of any wrongdoing in Williams’s death. (Walther Bernal )

Frederickson said in her report she believes Williams’s actions were influenced by his drug use.

“Methamphetamine is a terrible and dangerous drug. It causes people to act in unpredictable, and often violent, ways,” she wrote.

“The facts before me established that his actions and response to police was influenced by the drugs in his system.”

Frederickson didn’t make any recommendations in the inquest report.

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