A man slipped away from the scene of a week-long armed standoff in Newfoundland and got a lift out of town to buy smokes while police guarded what turned out to be an empty house for nearly 16 more hours, the RCMP said Monday.
The Mounties said the man snuck past their security perimeter on Friday night after they gathered on one side of his house to pump water into it with high-pressure hoses in an effort to resolve the standoff in Bay Bulls, N.L.
“In essence, we had one side of the house fully covered and positioned and another side that wasn’t,” Sgt. Boyd Merrill said in an interview.
“There was no way that he would have known, we don’t believe, that the other side wasn’t covered. He just took a chance.”
He said blinding lights were being beamed into the home’s windows at the time to restrict the man’s vision outside.
Premier Kathy Dunderdale said it appears the incident was not well handled, but added she was still reviewing it.
“It certainly doesn’t look good but I don’t have all of the information yet,” said Ms. Dunderdale, whose justice minister met with the RCMP to discuss what happened. “We encourage them to release all of the details.”
The Halifax police will conduct a review into the RCMP’s handling of the impasse, which was marked at times by shots being fired from the house at officers. The review will examine “all aspects of our tactical and critical incident response to this incident with specific emphasis on … [the]fleeing of the home and breaching of perimeter security,” the RCMP said.
The force said surveillance video showed a man that had kept them at bay for a week escaped through a side window and evaded officers at 8:54 p.m. on Friday as 60,000 gallons of water was being pumped into his home.
The noise of the water also interfered with audio equipment that was monitoring movement in the house, but Sgt. Merrill said it was a risk that police had to take in hopes of ending the standoff.
At best, he said, police hoped the man would come to a door or window and try to talk. He said they “underestimated” the effect of the water.
A suspect was arrested Saturday at 12:44 p.m., about 18 kilometres away from the scene of the standoff, with the help of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary.
He later told police that he was “OK until you guys tried to drown me,” Sgt. Merrill quoted him as saying.
Sgt. Merrill said it’s believed the man spent a considerable amount of time in a ditch not far from the house after escaping.
His vehicles were disabled by police, but he somehow made his way to a residence about 12 kilometres from the scene and asked a stranger for a lift.
The stranger gave the man a drive to a store to buy cigarettes and then to a family member’s home about 18 kilometres away from the scene of the standoff before calling 911, Sgt. Merrill said.
“[The man]only identified himself when he got out of the car,” Sgt. Merrill said. “[He was]very calm . . . very cordial.”
Sgt. Merrill said the man was considered “low-risk” when he was out in the public.
“His issue was with authority and when he was outside the house dealing with the public on a day-to-day basis, normally he was never violent, he was never aggressive.”
Throughout the weekend, the RCMP defended their handling of the situation. Initially they issued a statement Saturday afternoon saying the man’s arrest came following “the introduction of water into the residence … the turning off of the power and the use of noise.”
They also said “community information” led to the arrest, but did not mention that the man had left the house and was arrested outside of Bay Bulls.
But a somewhat more detailed picture emerged hours later, when the RCMP issued another statement to say that the man fled at some point after officers began pumping water into the home.
“The noise created by the introduction of the water affected our ability to use audio and video assets, which had been engaged to monitor [the man’s]movements in the home,” the RCMP said.
The standoff began Dec. 4 when a man barricaded himself inside the home.
The Mounties went to the house after receiving a report that a man had pointed a firearm at his sister and assaulted her. Both the sister and the man’s mother left the residence.
Shots were fired last Monday and Tuesday at a police robot that was used to deliver letters and a telephone to the house. More shots were fired last Wednesday night when an emergency response team used tear gas to try to make an arrest.
There were no injuries.
Leo Crockwell faces 16 charges, including five counts of attempted murder. The 55-year-old is scheduled to appear for a bail hearing Tuesday in St. John’s provincial court.
The Canadian Press