SURREY, B.C. - British Columbia's police watchdog has ruled that four RCMP officers acted appropriately when the attempted arrest of a distraught former soldier ended in his death.
Independent Investigations Office director Richard Rosenthal has issued his report into shooting death of Greg Matters on Sept. 10, 2012.
The 40-year-old veteran of the Bosnian conflict was killed at a rural home near Prince George, B.C.
Matters' family, who has said Greg was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, is bitterly disappointed by the decision, saying serious questions remain. The family noted in a statement that they are pursuing a complaint with the RCMP about what they say was a police assault on Greg's mother that night when she tried to reach him.
Rosenthal's report details a two-day incident that began with a fight between Matters and his brother, resulting in a police standoff at a rural property and ending with shots fired as Matters became irrational during what had been a calm surrender.
The report said Matters was shot as he raised an axe and charged toward an officer who had just unsuccessfully tried to use a Taser to disarm the veteran of the Bosnian conflict.
Rosenthal said although there are inconsistencies in the officers' testimony, the differences don't appear to be an attempt to deceive.
"In order to conclude that the shooting officer may have committed an offence, I would have to find that he may have used excessive (deadly) force without the reasonable belief that it was necessary for the preservation of another officer from death or grievous bodily harm," Rosenthal said in the report.
"Based on the evidence that I have reviewed, I am not able to reach that conclusion."
Matters was a soldier for 15 years, his sister, Tracey, has said. He left the Canadian Forces in 2009 and after he returned to his home town in northern British Columbia, it became clear to those who loved him that Matters was suffering from PTSD.
He began treatment at the Operational Stress Injury clinic in Vancouver, one of nine across Canada funded by Veterans Affairs, about a year and a half before his death.
Tracey Matters said her brother was making amazing progress.
"The Matters family appreciates that the IIO has a limited mandate, which is to establish criminal culpability, but it is still disappointed with many important aspects of the case," the family said in a statement Wednesday.
The statement said the family is particularly concerned about the treatment of Greg's mother, Lorraine Matters, that night, saying the woman was given permission to speak to her son, but when she attempted to reach him in the cabin where he was holed up, an officer pointed a machine gun at her, caused her to fall to the ground and dragged her along the road.
"The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and the Matters family allege that Lorraine’s treatment at the hands of the RCMP is inextricably linked to the shooting of her son," the statement said.
"She was treated as an active threat by police, rather than as an ally in negotiating a peaceful outcome."
The statement said the association is pursuing the incident through the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP.
The family also wants to know why Greg's psychiatrist was not allowed to speak with him.
"All of the surrounding circumstances of this case demand urgent investigation to determine the appropriateness and competence of the RCMP in this matter and whether this tragedy could have been avoided," Micheal Vonn, of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said in a statement.
In the hours before the fatal confrontation, Greg Matters sent a series of emails to the local newspaper, the Prince George Citizen, that mentioned his mental health struggles and his military service. He wrote of a dispute with his brother at his mother's home on the weekend, and a belief that RCMP were out to hurt him.
Matters' family was given the Memorial Cross award just two weeks ago in recognition of soldiers whose deaths are linked to their military service.