RCMP jumped the gun: lawyer

The lawyer representing the family of the man killed in a standoff with police at a Pineview farm last year launched an extended confrontation with the Prince George RCMP officer who sent in an emergency response team during a coroner's inquest on Thursday.

In a cross examination of Supt. Eric Stubbs, Cameron Ward characterized the move as an overreaction to a minor scuffle between brothers and suggested there was no need to force the issue of arresting Greg Matters.

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The 40-year-old Matters died on the evening of Sept. 10, 2012 when an ERT member shot twice in the back as he approached another member with a hatchet in his hand. The 15-year veteran of the Canadian military suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and had a strong distrust of police, the inquest has heard.

Police were trying to arrest Matters on charges of assault with a weapon and dangerous driving for forcing his brother off the road from an incident during the early morning on the day before. Matters had alleged the brother, Trevor, was doing doughnuts in the driveway of the home where he had been living with his mother and gave chase because he did not believe the police would respond in time.

Ward suggested the RCMP's response, which included establishing a command post on a neighbouring property, bringing in a helicopter from Kamloops, ERT members dressed in camouflage and carrying automatic rifles and deployment of a police dog were unjustified.

Stubbs replied that Matters' actions were indeed serious.

"Whenever somebody chases somebody down in a car and runs them off the road, that can result in death," Stubbs said. "It's not a scuffle, that's a serious incident."

But of larger concern, said Stubbs, was Matters' reaction in the aftermath.

"The response we got from Greg Matters is not only did I not do anything wrong but I want you to arrest Trevor Matters and if you don't, I'm going to deal with him," Stubbs said. "And that was extraordinarily concerning to us. That mantra forced our hand."

Had Matters shown remorse, it could have been a different story, Stubbs continued.

"If perhaps a scenario had been where he didn't want to come in but said 'I can't believe I did what I did, I'm sure I'm sorry but I need a couple of days to think this through,' that might have been an opening where we could have backed off," Stubbs said.

Stubbs maintained that as long as he was on the loose, Matters posed a threat to his brother and to the public in general, noting he told police he was going to get a gun and threatened to shoot anyone who came onto his property.

Ward countered that although he had a "temporary home" on the family farm in Pineview, the brother's main house was actually in Prince George, a 20-minute drive away and there was no evidence Matters had access to firearms.

Stubbs said police could not operate on the assumption Matters had no firearms, and even after his cellphone had been "pinged," RCMP had only a general idea of where he had gone after leaving his mother's home following a series of false starts in turning himself in to RCMP.

Ward later suggested the Stubbs "recklessly endangered" the lives of the ERT members by allowing them to step onto the property where Matters was believed to be, given the concerns about firearms and Matters' military background.

In response, Stubbs replied there was reason to believe Matters was about to surrender himself based on what he had told RCMP over the phone about 10 minutes before they moved in.

He said they wanted "get an eye on the residence" and confirm Matters' location

"And now we have a starting point where he could be contained and and begin negotiations with him," Stubbs said. "But at least he could be contained to a certain area so we know where he is."

Ward challenged Stubbs on attempting to arrest Matters without securing a warrant, saying police were not in "hot pursuit" of Matters and lacked exigent circumstances because there was no urgency to apprehend him.

Stubbs said that RCMP were in the process of applying for a warrant to enter a dwelling house, a so-called Feeney warrant, and ERT members stepped onto the property because RCMP felt he was about to surrender and wanted to receive him.

Ward said Matters had a "well-founded fear" of police and contended the ERT members, well-armed and dressed in camouflage while a helicopter flew overhead, only served to frighten Matters.

"A lot of people that we deal with don't like us and a lot of people don't want us on their property," Stubbs replied. "That's not an uncommon situation to be in."

The inquest continues today at the Prince George courthouse, 9 a.m. start.

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