Story told, nothing learned

by Andru McCracken, Editor


New details have emerged about the shooting death of John Buehler at the hands of police in 2014, and even though the event is nearly four years ago, it’s worth thinking about. A man died and a woman was nearly shot to death by police. An investigation of the police’s actions led to no charges.

Despite the detailed information that has come to light about the sequence of events leading up to the shooting death of John Buehler, don’t expect interactions between the court and people on the fringes to change.

The account published in the newspaper this week is one of a failed mission and we should see it as one side of a failed mission. No matter how good and how fair the recollection and understanding of police was of the events that lead to the death of a man, we know we have an imperfect account. Officer Pinnegar’s testimony shows us the frailty of observation when the participants are scared and under stress. He believed Shanna Buehler shot at him. But we know she did not. What else has been recounted imperfectly, we don’t know.

What we do know is that John Buehler had become a menace to local residents based on the exchange that happened at Camp Creek. He was trespassing and blocking access to others, he had guns he wasn’t allowed and threatened a woman and her daughter with his dogs. It ended in a standoff that, by some grace, ended peacefully.

If you are left wondering about the competence of the system for its handling of an explosive situation, you aren’t alone. John Buehler isn’t the first man on the fringes to be killed by Emergency Response Team personnel. Several high profile cases have come into the public eye in recent years.

We’re used to hearing a lot of criticism of police especially in shootings. But we know the squad had good reasons to believe their lives were at risk, and while their manoeuvres weren’t perfect, they were within reason.

The courtroom proceedings put Staff Sergeant Holt and his team under the microscope. The police were in a high-risk situation – in fact two RCMP waiting at a remote ambush point might have been killed had things gone slightly differently.

But the problem isn’t that Holt and the elite unit from Prince George weren’t perfect. The problem is the system. The very court where Holt and team were being cross examined was the place where the chain of events were put into motion.

Sending in an armed squadron should not have been the only option. In the first altercation at Camp Creek, police reasoned with Buehler. They defused the bomb. What was the difference? Could it have been because there weren’t 50 officers armed to the teeth? That their first encounter with him wasn’t throwing a stun grenade?

The strategy of the court to get Buehler to comply with the law failed. We should expect someone to own up to their mistake.

In his testimony Holt takes ownership of the mission’s failure. It will inform his actions in the future. But that mission was doomed to fail. That’s not Holt’s fault.

No one has taken responsibility for setting the predictable course of events into action.

The next time you hear of an outsider with delusions and a history of violence getting into trouble, don’t expect a different outcome. Because if no one is taking responsibility, no one is learning. We deserve to hear from the court about what went wrong and what they will do to ensure things change.

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