THURSDAY: The fourth day of the coroner’s inquest into the death of Brydon Whitstone is underway this morning in Battleford.
It is expected there will be three witnesses called today. On the stand this morning is RCMP Sgt. Pernell St. Pierre.
Two more witnesses are expected to make phone appearances later on Thursday; those would be expert witnesses.
That would wrap up witness testimony in the case. It is possible the jury could be sequestered and deliberations could begin later today; if not, it would happen Friday.
The most highly anticipated testimony of the entire inquest into the death of Brydon Whitstone happened Wednesday afternoon in Battleford.
It was the testimony of Cst. Jerry Abbott, identified in earlier testimony as the officer who had fired the shots on Whitstone on Oct 21, 2017.
At the time of the incident. Abbott had been on patrol for Battlefords RCMP rural detachment. When the call had come in about a white four door vehicle suspected to have been involved in a drive-by shooting, Abbott was already heading back to the detachment from Sweetgrass First Nation.
Abbott responded to what he described as the “priority one” call, which is “all hands on deck, basically,” he said.
The call identified the vehicle location as the Academy of Learning; Abbott said he “knew where that was” and headed that way.
Once at the scene, Abbott recalled yelling commands at the occupants of the white Buick LeSabre vehicle. He recalled yelling, “Stop, police, stop” over and over. He also noticed the driver was rocking the vehicle back and forth.
Other officers arrived, and smashed out the window of the driver’s side. Abbott said he was “pretty focused” on the driver. At some point, one of the other officers used their OC spray (pepper spray) and sprayed it into the vehicle cab. He said no immediate change was noted in the occupants.
The entire time, everyone was yelling, “stop, police” over and over, said Abbott.
Abbott recalled yelling, “Show me your hands,” and at one point it seemed to him the driver put his fingers up, as if to say “I have given up.”
Abbott then testified he started walking towards the vehicle and was putting his service pistol away, but it was at this point that the driver “turned away at me and started digging in his pants,” Abbott said.
Abbott recalled the driver, Whitstone, sticking both of his hands into his pants on the right hand side. The male driver was told, “Stop moving, show me your hands,” but Abbott testified the driver stopped moving, looked at Abbott straight in the face, and then dug even lower.
“At that point, I believed he was trying to index a gun,” said Abbott, and “at that point I shot him.”
That was the first of two shots fired by Abbott at Whitstone. He fired at the driver a second time, Abbott testified, because Whitstone “was still moving.”
After the second shot, Whitstone stopped digging for the gun and his left hand came out of his pants, after which Abbott and Cst. Marco Johnson attempted to open the door. They couldn’t, said Abbott, so he grabbed Whitstone by the shoulder and removed him through the window.
Abbott then started CPR compressions until the ambulance came.
After the ambulance took over, Abbott said, he stepped back from the scene and began to take notes, but testified his “hands were shaking and covered in blood.”
Whitstone family lawyer Mark Ebert had no shortage of questions for Abbott, who confirmed he had been transferred to another detachment two months before.
In rseponse to Ebert, Abbott said he was not worried about crossfire at the time of the incident.
“We’re taught to stop the threat. I wasn’t aiming for his heart... I was aiming for his body,” said Abbott.
Abbott also testified he had not seen Amanda Wahobin’s arms wrapped around Whitstone in the vehicle.
Abbott was asked if he had much experience in drive-by shootings. He had, he said, attempted to locate vehicles before.
Abbott responded under questioning that he had a prominent role that night “because of my location.”
At one point Ebert asked Abbott, “Do you blame Brydon for shooting him?” That question was then quickly retracted.
When asked if he was concerned about a second vehicle, Abbott said he had no concern about that whatsoever.
It was RCMP lawyer Sean Sass’s turn to ask questions next. He asked Abbott if he believed there was a gun in the white vehicle.
“Yes,” he said.
Sass asked if Abbott believed the driver was trying to get away.
“Yes,” Abbott responded.
Sass also asked Abbott if he believed it was a high risk situation.
“Very,” he said.
Sass asked Abbott if he saw the driver reach down. Yes, Abbott responded, he saw him reach down into his pants.
After firing the first round, Sass asked Abbott if he still believed there was a threat. Yes, Abbott responded, because the driver didn’t stop moving.
Immediately after Abbott left the stand, Whitstone’s mother Dorothy Laboucane spoke to reporters outside the court house. She read what she described as a victim impact statement.
“It’s been a year now and my heart still aches, and I still cry knowing you, Cst. Abbott, took my son,” said a tearful Laboucane.
“The pain I carry every day, and I will forever. Physically, every day is a struggle. I have days when I cannot function with the pain. Family life will never be the same without Brydon.”
She concluded the statement by saying, “We thank God for twenty-two precious years with him, but grieve for the life that he was denied by the action of the RCMP who shattered and devastated our family.”
In additional remarks to reporters, Laboucane said she hoped to see some answers from the inquest but said “there isn’t any closure for us.” She also didn’t believe what Abbott said on the stand.
“I don’t believe him. I’m not going to believe him. Why would I believe him? He was focused, he was just ‘trigger happy.’ He wanted to play the hero. There were other ways, they were on their way to subduing him already. They could have shot him in the arm, they could have tasered him, they could have done a number of ten things. But they didn’t. Two things were done, and my son would still be here and none of this would be going on. My son would be in jail, but he isn’t.”
While Abbott was perhaps the most prominent witness of the afternoon, there were two other RCMP witnesses called to the stand.
Cst. Gregory Hugo of the RCMP had been called as the first afternoon witness, just prior to Abbott’s testimony.
Hugo testified as to what transpired at the scene at the white Buick LeSabre vehicle that Brydon Whitstone had been driving. Hugo said that when commands were made to the occupants to “put up your hands,” he noticed hands up on the passenger side at the front.
Hugo said he saw an officer smash out the driver’s side window and the passenger side windows were also quickly smashed out.
Hugo then went to the side door by the white car, he said, and there were still verbal commands given, but, Hugo testified, the driver seemed to be making attempts to get away, and the car was going “back and forth.” Hugo also remembered seeing the drivers’ hands on the steering wheel.
He approached the driver’s side and got very close to the vehicle near the door handle, he said, but the driver’s door handle didn’t open for him..
Getting to the driver’s left hand, which was on the steering wheel, was difficult, he testified. He and Cst. Marco Johnson both had the driver’s left arm and they were trying to bend it back, attempting an “arm-bar” by trying to use the vehicle to inflict some pain on Whitstone as a way to get him to leave the vehicle.
Hugo then heard two shots. With the first shot, Hugo testified he let go of the arm and jumped back, three to four feet away from the vehicle and a second shot followed.
When he yelled out, “Who shot?”, Hugo testified, Cst. Abbott said he did. He said he saw Abbott right beside him and that he had drawn his pistol at the right side of the vehicle.
Hugo also testified the driver had slouched back and collapsed forward, with blood starting to come out of his mouth. He said Cst. Marco Johnson handcuffed Whitstone’s left arm at this point, and he and Abbott lifted him from the drivers’ side window and got him into the recovery position.
Hugo also testified he heard Abbott check the male’s pulse and say, “We lost him.” Nevertheless, Abbott began chest compressions immediately, said Hugo.
Hugo said he recognized the male as Brydon Whitstone, based on his previous interactions with him with the RCMP while assisting the serious violent offender reduction unit. As the chest compressions took place, Hugo testified he was saying, “Come on, Brydon,” urging some sort of response from him.
Hugo had described it as a “very chaotic and tense” few minutes. At one point when the chest compressions started, Hugo also said he began to second guess whether it was Whitstone, as the tattoo on his chest looked different than before.
In questioning from Whitstone family lawyer Stephanie Lavallee, Hugo testified that he initially moved over to the side of the vehicle after someone had said, “Watch out for crossfire.”
When performing the armbar he wasn’t thinking about crossfire at that point, he said. He was not worried about crossfire from officers whose weapons were drawn, because he had trust in the training of the members he worked with, said Hugo, but he did admit to concerns afterwards that he could have been shot while performing the armbar.
In questions from RCMP lawyer Sean Sass, Hugo said that when it came to the commands from police, the driver was “not compliant.”
The last witness of the day was Cst. Trevor Sowers of the RCMP. His testimony recounted how close Sowers himself had come to pulling the trigger that night.
Sowers recounted his own reaction at the moment Whitstone seemed to be reaching down towards his pants.
“He’s reaching, he’s reaching, and my thought was, oh man, he’s going to pull a gun on us,” Sowers testified.
“As the time comes up I’m thinking, if I have to shoot there’s so much going through my mind.” Sowers added he was concerned about the other officers in the area.
Even after the first shot was fired, Sowers said Whitstone was still moving his arm.
“He seemed highly motivated, like he wanted to take off,” Sowers said.
During Sass’s line of questioning, Sowers further explained the ways Whitstone wasn’t being compliant.
“He wasn’t listening to any direction, he was actively trying to flee us to the point even when we had boxed him in, he had followed no commands,” said Sowers.
“When we said ‘put your hands up’ he took his hand, reached under his waist band... I’ve never seen somebody so motivated to want to get away from us in that situation. In these situations before, usually they put their hands up, and it’s over.”
Sowers was the final witness of the day. Afterward, Brydon’s father, Albert Whitstone, expressed his own frustrations to reporters about the variations in the testimony given by the RCMP officers.
“They’re all different stories,” said Whitstone. “Nothing matches... those RCMP officers all made different comments.”
Debbie Baptiste, mother of Colten Boushie, who had been shot to death on the farm of Gerald Stanley in August 2016, was at the court house holding placards, including one that read “Justice for Brydon.”
The plan for Thursday is for three more witnesses to be called at the inquest, with testimony expected to extend into the early afternoon.
Depending on how things go, the coroner could deliver the charge to jury as early as Thursday; if not, it would happen Friday morning at 10 a.m.
Following the charge, the jury would be then sequestered until they come back with a decision.