Police testimony dominates the third day of the coroner’s inquest into the death of Brydon Whitstone in Battleford.
The indication from Coroner’s counsel Tim Hawryluk on Tuesday was that six witnesses would be called, all RCMP officers. Three of those officers took the stand Wednesday morning.
The first witness called was Cpl. Brent Salzl of the RCMP. Salzl was a member of the forensic identification team, and his role was to document the scene at the intersection of 15th Avenue and 105th Street.
His testimony focused on those efforts. As part of that, a video Salzl shot from the scene was shown, showing some of the damage that had ensued including the scene in front of the Academy of Learning building where the white LeSabre had ended up. The video was shot Oct. 22, during the day. Salzl also went through a number of images taken at the scene.
Salzl also testified about photos of the items found which included a red bandana, pants with a wallet, shorts, and a black jacket with blood. Two holes were also found on Whitstone’s shirt, he said.
Next up was Cst. Garrett Dove of the RCMP, who had responded to the scene that Oct. 21 night. Dove’s testimony was notable because it was his Ford Explorer RCMP vehicle that was hit and heavily damaged by the LeSabre driven by Whitstone.
On the stand, Dove remembered dipping the wheel to the left and being hit right afterwards.
Afterwards, Dove testified, he tried to radio other officers to let them know he was OK. He remembered waving to another police vehicle telling them he was OK. Then, he said, he noticed everyone at the corner where the suspect vehicle had come to a stop and he ran down the street.
Dove’s testimony was much in line with other testimony during the week, as he recalled someone yelling “he’s reaching” and then heard the two gunshots. He remembered going to help Cst. Matthew McKay to remove Amanda Wahobin from the passenger side.
He confirmed that pepper spray had been used on the LeSabre vehicle. Dove also spoke of the commands issued to those inside the vehicle, saying the commands from police were “stop, stop, show us your hands”.
In questioning by Stephanie Lavallee, lawyer representing the deceased's family, Dove recalled shouting, “Watch for crossfire.” When asked if he felt fortunate he wasn’t shot, he said, “I guess, yes.”
The last witness of the morning was Cst. Marco Johnson of the RCMP. He was the driver of the second RCMP vehicle, a Chevy Tahoe, that was hit by the white LeSabre, though not as severely.
Johnson testified he saw Dove’s vehicle collide with the suspect vehicle, and then it hit a fence, after which the suspect vehicle ended up moving toward and impacting the right front bumper of the Chevy Tahoe police car that Johnson was driving.
Afterwards, Johnson testified, he took his seatbelt off, took his gun out and pointed towards the vehicle in the alley. That vehicle kept on going up the alley, turning towards the south on 105th Street. There were definitely two occupants in the vehicle, male and female, he testified.
Johnson also testified he was the one who broke out the front driver’s side window, and recalled reaching into the vehicle and grabbing Whitstone’s hands off the steering wheel. He testified he performed an “arm-bar” on Whitstone, trying to remove him from the vehicle, but there was resistance and Whitstone pulled back.
Johnson testified he saw Whitstone’s right hand go exactly down into his crotch area. At that time, he clearly heard “show me your hands” from two officers.
Johnson said he was going to grab Whitstone by the hair but said he didn’t get to his head, as he heard a gunshot go off.
Before the second shot Johnson recalled Whitstone gurgling, and testified he was “fading right away.”
He was looking in the vehicle for other people and saw Wahobin with her hands raised. At that point, Johnson said, he smashed the back window.
He said he and another officer removed Whitstone out of the window and Cst. Abbott started performing CPR while Johnson did a brief pat down of Whitstone. He located no firearms whatsoever, he said, and handcuffs were placed.
“It looked like he faded in front of me,” Johnson said of Whitstone’s condition. As for EMS, Johnson said it felt like the ambulance’s arrival was “right away.”
Under further questioning from Whitstone’s family lawyer, Johnson further explained his own reaction when the white LeSabre vehicle moved towards his own after hitting the fence.
“I chose not to react by brakes or steering wheel,” said Johnson, “I don’t know if I had time to but I didn’t react.”
He once again described seeing an “exaggerated motion” towards Whitstone’s crotch, which he described as “odd.”
When asked by RCMP counsel Sean Sass if the driver was following commands Johnson responded, “No.”
Debbie Baptiste, mother of Colten Boushie, shot and killed by rural resident Gerald Stanley in 2016, was in the courtroom for the testimony. After court broke for the noon hour, Baptiste spoke to reporters and criticized Johnson’s attire, wearing his full police uniform on the stand.
“When did the RCMP get to be fully armed in a courtroom, bringing a fully loaded gun in a courtroom?” said Baptiste. “Not even safe to go into this courtroom, I guess.”
The inquest was scheduled to resume at 1:30 p.m. Cst. Jerry Abbott, the RCMP member who had fatally wounded Whitstone on Oct. 21, was expected to be among those called this afternoon.
Stay with the News-Optimist for continuing coverage of the Whitstone inquest.