A man killed when a Surrey RCMP officer fired 30 rounds at him two years ago had cocaine and morphine in his blood when he fled a police traffic stop, a coroner’s inquest heard Tuesday.
The inquest is looking into the events of March 2, 2011, when Constable Peter Neily’s RCMP car became pinned against the vehicle of Adam Purdie. Constable Neily saw Mr. Purdie aiming a rifle at him and, unable to drive away or get out of the car, fired a hail of bullets that eventually killed Mr. Purdie, who was 28 years old.
On Tuesday morning, forensic pathologist Craig Litwin told the inquest Mr. Purdie had 17 gunshot wounds when he died, though some of the wounds may have been from the same bullets re-entering the body. Dr. Litwin said at least one of Mr. Purdie’s wounds, a gunshot to his neck that passed up through his head, was likely self-inflicted, from Mr. Purdie’s own rifle. However, it was a survivable wound and it isn’t clear whether it came before or after Constable Neily’s shots.
RCMP toxicologist Ronald Pon also testified on Tuesday, telling the jury Mr. Purdie’s blood results showed evidence he had been a “heavy user” of crack cocaine in the period leading up his death. Mr. Pon couldn’t say exactly how much cocaine was in Mr. Purdie’s system when he fled police, but it was likely enough to influence his behaviour.
“Individuals become very paranoid, very suspicious,” when using cocaine, Mr. Pon told the jury, “and they’ll often become suspicious of police.”
Mr. Purdie had been convicted of assault in 2004 for pointing a gun and uttering threats at his ex-girlfriend’s boyfriend, and said at the trial he had hoped police would shoot him when they arrived. Mr. Purdie had also been given a lifetime ban on owning firearms, but when he fled the traffic stop in 2011, the officer who pulled him over had noticed a partially concealed rifle in the back seat.
On Monday, the inquest heard a recording of police radio traffic from that night as they attempted to apprehend Mr. Purdie. He was described as armed, violent and possibly suicidal.
After he swerved to avoid spike strips at the corner of King George Boulevard and 56 Avenue, Mr. Purdie collided with civilian vehicles and came to rest at the side of the road.
It was then that Constable Neily attempted to ram Mr. Purdie’s car to prevent escape, but Constable Neily’s vehicle became wedged up against Mr. Purdie’s until the two cars were roughly aligned. In emotional testimony on Monday, Constable Neily told the jury he was sure he would be killed when he saw Mr. Purdie aiming a rifle at him and yelling curses.
Constable Neily emptied two full clips into Mr. Purdie’s driver side window, 30 shots in total. “I wasn’t counting. I was just trying to get that gun to stop what it was doing, stop it from pointing at me,” Constable Neily told the jury.
Much of the inquest’s time has been spent on questions of when police are justified in pursuing a suspect fleeing in a vehicle, and parameters around use of force. The jury is to provide recommendations for preventing similar fatalities in the future.
On Wednesday, the final day of testimony, the inquest is scheduled to hear from a Saanich Police Department officer who led an investigation into the incident that cleared Constable Neily of criminal responsibility for Mr. Purdie’s death. Family members of Mr. Purdie are also scheduled to testify.
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