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Police watchdog backs Victoria officers who returned rifle to gunman

RCMP Insp. Tim Shields holds up photos of Angus David Mitchell during a news conference in Burnaby, B.C. Wednesday, May 30, 2012. Mitchell is wanted for attempted murder and is considered armed and extremely dangerous.


Members of Victoria's police department acted reasonably when they returned a firearm to a British Columbia man who later used the same weapon to kill two people and wound a third, says an independent watchdog.

Details of an investigation conducted by the province's Police Complaint Commissioner into the May, 2012, shootings by Angus Mitchell were released Monday, just hours after the city's chief constable commented publicly on the probe.

Mitchell died in a shootout with police in the Fraser Valley in May, 2012, days after investigators connected him to the shooting injuries of his former landlord and two murders in a Metro Vancouver sushi restaurant.

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Rollie Woods, deputy police complaint commissioner, said his office based its findings on an investigation conducted by the Vancouver Police Department and testimony at a November, 2013, coroner's inquest.

"Based on the review of the available evidence, the commissioner determined that members' conduct was reasonable in the circumstances and did not constitute misconduct," said Woods.

"The commissioner determined that the actions of the officers substantially met the standard of what a reasonable police officer with similar training, knowledge, skills and experience would have done in the same circumstances."

Woods said there was nothing in Mitchell's background to suggest to police at the time they should be concerned about giving the firearm back to the man.

"They couldn't predict, obviously, that Mr. Mitchell was going to, once he had his rifle returned to him, was going to go and take the steps he did," said Woods.

Victoria Chief Const. Frank Elsner said in a statement released Monday that his department is grateful for the commissioner's direction and oversight.

"The tragic outcome of any event cannot be used to define the conduct of police officers from the perspective of hindsight," he said.

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Elsner said his department has already improved the firearms-investigation training of its 243 members and its firearms policy and is committed to the new procedures.

A coroner's inquest heard last year that Mitchell's mental health was assessed at a Victoria hospital following a February, 2012, incident at a doctor's clinic, and months later he got his rifle back and headed to Vancouver.

He killed two people at a Burnaby sushi restaurant with the weapon and then shot and wounded his former landlord, prompting a massive manhunt.

Police surrounded him in a rural area in Maple Ridge, located east of Vancouver, after being tipped off by a civilian witness.

Mitchell shot at the officers after emerging from his van, and they returned fire. He was shot at least 10 times in the chest, back and pelvic area.

A investigation by the Vancouver Police Department determined that officers weren't at fault for the shooting and a video from above the scene showed that Mitchell shot at police first.

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Police said after Mitchell's death that he had a detailed hit list including businesses, schools and a group home in Metro Vancouver.

A coroner's inquest in November 2013 heard testimony from Terry Hamilton, chief firearms officer for B.C. and Yukon.

Hamilton said her office approved a 2011 firearms application even though Mitchell had police complaints lodged against him, including for threatening a former employer and getting into a confrontation with a landlord.

"We did not have enough to indicate a history of violence or any convictions that were related to violence," she told the coroner's jury at the time.

Since Mitchell did not disclose a history of mental illness or substance abuse in his application, and he had never been apprehended under the Mental Health Act, the office did not delve further into his medical history.

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