No charges against N.B. police officer in shooting of Indigenous woman Chantel Moore
New Brunswick's Public Prosecutions Services announced Monday that no criminal charges will be filed against the police officer who fatally shot Chantel Moore a year ago.
Moore, a 26-year-old Indigenous woman, was shot by a member of the Edmundston Police Force during a wellness check in the early hours of June 4, 2020. Investigators said at the time that the shooting occurred after the young woman approached the officer holding a knife.
"The evidence presented to Public Prosecutions Services does not establish a reasonable prospect of conviction," the PPS wrote in its news release. "Therefore, we will not proceed with criminal charges against the police officer. As the Crown’s review of this file has concluded, we have decided to make publicly available the legal opinion prepared on this matter."
Quebec's independent police watchdog, known as the Bureau des enquetes independantes, investigated the case because New Brunswick does not have its own police oversight agency. The watchdog submitted its findings to the New Brunswick prosecutors' office in December, but additional investigative work had to be done, and prosecutors only had the complete file as of early April.
The prosecutions office said in a statement the evidence showed the officer was responding to a potentially lethal threat and his actions were reasonable under the circumstances. Prosecutors concluded there was no reasonable prospect of conviction.
"The circumstances surrounding the death of Ms. Moore are tragic," the statement said. "Chantel was a beloved daughter, mother, sister and friend. She was a member of Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation in British Columbia who had recently moved to New Brunswick to be closer to her family. We offer our deepest sympathies to her loved ones and to the communities touched by this loss."
In writing his review of the Quebec watchdog's report, Patrick Wilbur, regional director of the Public Prosecution Services, said a former boyfriend of Moore called police at 2:06 a.m. to request the wellness check as a result of his concerns over a series of Facebook Messenger messages he had received over a period of a few hours.
The former boyfriend, who lives in Quebec, told investigators at that at one point it appeared as if the messages were being written by third party, and he contacted police out of concern for Moore's safety.
Police arrived at Moore's apartment on Hill Street in downtown Edmundston at 2:32 a.m. The apartment was on the third floor and could be accessed by a wooden staircase. When questioned, the officer, who is not identified, said he knocked on a window and shone a flashlight on himself to show he was in full police uniform.
"As he moved to the entrance door he was surprised to observe that Ms. Moore retrieved something from her kitchen counter. At this point he saw that the object was metallic and that as Ms. Moore approached the door she appeared angry with a furrowed brow," Wilbur's review says.
The officer said he backed away from the door and removed his gun from its holster. He recounted that Moore opened the door and came out of the apartment, moving in his direction with a knife in her left hand. The officer said he pointed his gun at Ms. Moore as she continued to advance and told her repeatedly in French to "drop the knife" as he backed up towards the end of the third-floor balcony.
Because the stairs were at the opposite end of the balcony, he said he was cornered. "Scared that she would hurt or kill him, (the officer) said he fired his gun until the threat was no longer present." The report said four shots were fired, and police called an ambulance and tried to stop the bleeding but were unsuccessful.
Eyewitnesses who had seen Moore earlier in the night said she had been drinking alcohol -- a factor confirmed by the autopsy.
"It is this author's opinion that in the early morning hours of June 4, 2020, (the officer) did believe, on reasonable grounds, that force or a threat of force was being used against him by Ms. Moore and that he shot at Ms. Moore for 'the purpose of defending or protecting' himself and that his actions were reasonable under the circumstances," Wilbur wrote.
"Ms. Chantel Moore's death, although deeply regrettable, was as a result of her being severely impaired by alcohol and combined with her actions, specifically exiting her residence brandishing a knife," he continued, adding that she did not respond to clear orders to drop the knife.
A later forensic examination of the kitchen knife was able to find three fingerprints on the handle but they lacked enough detail to connect them to a specific person.
Wilbur said while the officer had other deterrent measures, such as pepper spray and a baton, the events unfolded quickly.
In a release Monday evening, Edmundston Police Chief Alain Lang said the tragic death continues to have a profound impact on Moore's family, members of the police force, the community and First Nations across the country.
"We respect the decision rendered by the Public Prosecution Service, and will not comment further, except to say that we will continue to work with the authorities in the upcoming proceedings, including the Coroner's Inquest and the New Brunswick Police Commission Inquiry," Lang wrote.
Just over a week after Moore died, RCMP shot and killed Rodney Levi of Metepenagiag First Nation in New Brunswick. In that case, which was also investigated by the Quebec watchdog, the province's prosecutions service concluded the RCMP officers involved acted lawfully to protect themselves and civilians who were present at the home in Sunny Corner, N.B., where Levi was shot.
New Brunswick's Department of Public Safety announced last year that a coroner's inquest would be held into both deaths.
Chief Coroner Jerome Ouellette announced Monday that an inquest into Moore's death has been scheduled to begin Dec. 6, 2021 in the Edmundston region. An inquest is a formal court proceeding that allows for public presentation of evidence relating to a death, but doesn't make findings of legal responsibility or assign blame. The findings are intended to help prevent a similar death from happening.
Messages seeking comment from Moore's family and their lawyer were not immediately returned Monday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2021.