A coroners inquest heard Friday from the RCMP emergency response team member who pulled the trigger when a military veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder was shot and killed during a standoff with police last year.
Cpl. Collin Warwick said he fired two shots at the centre mass of Greg Matters on the evening of Sept. 10, 2012 after he had turned on another ERT member who had just tried to Taser him from behind.
Warwick said four ERT members had just driven up the laneway towards the small cabin where Matters had gone to think according to earlier testimony from his mother. The ERT had been told he was going to surrender himself to police.
Matters was spotted emerging from the cabin and as he walked along the road, the ERT members used the cover of a row of trees alongside to position themselves so that two were in front of Matters and two behind.
We were creating a flanking formation, Warwick said.
The two in front were equipped with a Taser and a bean bag shotgun while Matters, an RCMP dog handler, brought his dog and was carrying an M-16 rifle. The ERT member who was with him was carrying an M-16 rifle.
Warwick said Matters was walking quickly and staring straight at the two vehicles the ERT had arrived in, his own dog, a mid-sized Australian blue heeler, following along. When Matters had progressed far enough, Warwick said the ERT members stepped out from behind the trees and one of them told Matters in a loud clear voice he was under arrest.
But Matters continued on and before reaching the vehicles and the two ERT members in front of him, he turned and began yelling and then started walking quickly back up the driveway, Warwick said, later saying he did not remember what he was yelling.
The ERT member continued to tell Matters to stop and he was under arrest while Warwick gave his dog the command to apprehend the
But just as the dog started towards him, Matters reached into the fleece jacket he was wearing, pulled out a hatchet, took off the sheath, threw it on the ground and raised the hatchet above his head.
The hatchet has been described as a small tactical axe, with a four-inch blade and about 11 inches long.
It was if he presented it, Warwick said. He held it up, his arm was bent, his elbow was bent and he held it above his head.
Warwick called off his dog and the ERT leader ordered a member to move in on Matters from behind and fire the Taser, but it had no effect - just one of the prongs took hold, a pathologist indicated in previous testimony.
Matters changed direction once again and headed towards the member, who Warwick said had put his rifle on the ground to fire the Taser, with the hatchet up. Up to that point, Warwick said he had his rifle in a low ready position, holding it with both hands, the stock against his shoulder and the muzzle pointed down.
When the Taser was deployed and ineffective and Greg Matters continued to come towards [the ERT member] rapidly with the hatchet in position to harm him, I switched the safety off my carbine rifle and I shot Greg Matters in the chest, Warwick said.
Warwick said he fired a second shot less than a second later and Matters dropped to the ground. His next move was to advise over the radio that shots were fired, then to back one of the police vehicles along the laneway onto Pinko Road. He then ran back up the driveway and moved the other vehicle towards the cabin and past where Matters was laying just off to the side of the driveway.
As the other members attended to Matters, his blue heeler kept returning to his body. Warwick, who had put his police dog back in one of the vehicles, put a tracking line around Matters dog and led it back to a RCMP vehicle as well.
Asked why he did not allow his police dog to keep going when Matters pulled out the hatchet, Warwick said the dog is not trained to deal with suspects armed with edged weapons. If the dog was hurt or killed, and Matters was able to get away, it could not be used to track him, Warwick said.
Asked why the ERT did not simply back away when Matters turned towards the member who fired the Taser, Warwick said there was no time.
This was unfolding exceptionally quickly, in a matter of a couple of seconds, Warwick said.
He later said allowing Matters to continue back to the cabin rather than using the Taser on him was not an option because of a concern he might have other weapons inside.
B.C. Coroners lawyer Rodrick Mackenzie suggested ordering the ERT member to close in to use the Taser put him in danger because it put him within range of the hatchet. Using the bean bag shotgun would have been a better option because it could be used from farther away, Mackenzie argued.
Warwick said the choice between the two was up to the team leader, not him, and said his role was to provide lethal coverage if something went wrong once the dog was called off.
In earlier testimony, the inquest heard none of the ERT members were trained in using the bean bag shotgun but one was brought along anyway. Since the incident, ERT members have been trained in its use, Warwick said Friday.
The inquest had also heard that Matters had called the RCMP a short time before he was killed to say he had arranged to have a neighbour pick him up and drive him to the detachment. In response, the officer on the other end encouraged him to walk up the laneway with his jacket off and his hands where police could see them, but when Matters noticed the lock on the gate across the entrance was broken, he became angry and retreated to the cabin before the ERT had arrived.
Referring to a written opinion a fellow RCMP officer made of Matters following an earlier incident, Mackenzie said that while Matters harboured a great deal of anger and disappointment with police, he would not intentionally harm a member but may act unpredictably if felt he was being treated unjustly.
Isnt that exactly the situation that transpired at the scene? That you opened the gate and he thought you were being unjust and he reacted in a negative way? Mackenzie asked. Did you have any of that information?
I did not have any of that information, Warwick said.
Warwick also told his side of the story on the arrest of Matters mother earlier the same day. When he saw her drive her van onto the laneway towards the cabin, Warwick said he called for backup and followed it in suspecting Matters might be hidden inside.
Lorraine Matters promptly stopped when he activated the lights on the unmarked suburban he was driving and she stepped out of the van and was cooperative until he asked her why she was going up the driveway, Warwick said.
Her demeanour and behaviour changed completely, Warwick said. She immediately began yelling at me and swearing, she called me an asshole and she said you guys are something else, Warwick said.
When she turned back to the van, Warwick said he grabbed her by the collar of her shirt and told her she was under arrest for obstructing a peace officer. She began trying to punch him, flaying both her fists, and Warwick said he became concerned about the van.
As she tried to kick him, Warwick said she pulled her back and then, because she continued to punch and kick at him, he held her down with a knee while keeping a grip on her collar with one hand and using his other hand to keep the rifle he was carrying pointed in a safe direction, all the while worried her son was in the vicinity.
It felt like my head was on a swivel and I was watching everywhere because I believed I was going to be attacked or engaged by Greg Matters, Warwick said.
Warwick said Lorraine Matters continued to yell at him but then the character of her screaming changed.
It just became like very loud, it was just screams and it seemed to me it was more of a signal, Warwick said.
The comment drew a loud groan of derision from many of the roughly 30 people in the gallery, who subsequently received a reprimand from the presiding coroner Chico Newell and two extra sheriffs were in the courtroom for the rest of the day.
When Warwick first stepped into the courtroom earlier that morning, about two-thirds of the onlookers stood up and turned their backs to him in an apparent expression of displeasure with the RCMP member who shot and killed Matters. That had also drawn a reprimand from Newell who told them that if they did not want to hear Warwicks testimony, they could leave.
Originally scheduled to take just five days, the inquest has now gone on for nine and more time will be needed as the testimony of one other ERT member has not yet been completed - he was stood down Friday to hear Warwick - and three other ERT members are still to take the stand.
The inquest has been tentatively scheduled to resume on Jan. 27.