Two Alberta Mounties charged in fatal 2018 shooting near Whitecourt
EDMONTON -- Alberta's police watchdog says two RCMP officers have been charged in a 2018 shooting that ended in the death of a 31-year-old man.
The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, which investigates all police-involved incidents resulting in death or serious injury, announced officers were each facing one charge of criminal negligence causing death related to the July 3, 2018 shooting of Clayton Crawford.
The incident unfolded over two days, starting with a July 2 shooting at a home in Valhalla Centre, a hamlet community about 423 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.
An occupant of the home was struck by a bullet and police said a 31-year-old man fled in a "distinctive vehicle."
"As RCMP officers began to investigate the incident, they sought to locate and interview the man as a witness to the events and, indeed, as the possible intended victim," ASIRT said in a news release.
The next day, an off-duty Mountie spotted what he believed to be the vehicle in question at the Chickadee Creek rest stop, west of Whitecourt, and tipped off nearby RCMP officers.
Officers found the vehicle parked with a driver asleep in the vehicle.
When the Mounties approached it, investigators say a confrontation occurred that led to the man starting to drive away.
As the driver pulled away, one of the responding Mounties fired a service pistol at the vehicle while another fired a carbine rifle, according to ASIRT.
The vehicle then crossed the highway and crashed into a nearby ditch.
Crawford was found dead in the driver's seat with multiple gunshot wounds.
After a nearly two-year investigation, ASIRT executive director Susan Hughson determined there was sufficient evidence to warrant a recommendation of criminal charges against the two officers who opened fire, Cpl. Randy Stenger and Const. Jessica Brown.
Some of the evidence included video captured by police vehicles that advanced the case "significantly," Hughson said, adding ASIRT would not release the video, in part to avoid retraumatizing Crawford's family.
"It becomes very difficult for the family to get away from that once it's on the internet and can't be changed," she said.
Both Mounties were arrested and charged on June 5 and have since been released on an undertaking with conditions, including a ban on firearms.
They'll next appear in provincial court on July 14.
Hughson said it's the first time in the watchdog's history that an officer-involved shooting resulting in a death led to criminal charges against law enforcement members.
She also said she's been in touch with Crawford's family over the course of the investigation.
"Now that the investigation's concluded, they were allowed to better understand what happened, to ask questions, and to understand what the process is going to be moving forward," she said. "They have been very patient and I don't think it would be an understatement to say that they're still very devastated by the loss of Clayton Crawford."
An online obituary for Crawford described him as "a loving father and a hard-working man" whose greatest joys in life were spending time with his daughter and family.
Alberta RCMP Dep. Comm. Curtiz Zablocki said both officers were suspended with pay after the charges were laid.
He said Stenger has been with the force for 12 years, while Brown has been a member for four years.
"There's a great responsibility placed in the hands of police officers. They're called upon to make split-second decisions that can have lasting impacts," he said. "Those decisions, unfortunately, can sometimes result in a tragic loss of life."
Both officers returned to work after going through steps to clear them to resume active duty while the investigation was still taking place, Zablocki said.
He predicted that a fatality inquiry would likely follow the completion of the criminal case.