Killing her still haunts him 12 years later

“I don’t want her to die... No one wants her to die”

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At times the mem­o­ries are awak­ened by the news of the day or when the weather turns cold and ice crys­tals hang in the air, like it was on the day one life was taken and an­other for­ever changed.

At those times, Dale Orban is trans­ported back to a frigid Sun­day morn­ing near Regina’s down­town: When he could clearly hear each “pop” in the oth­er­wise still air, ev­ery crunch of foot­steps on the snow, and each breath as his adren­a­line pumped.

Like a slow-mo­tion movie on a con­tin­u­ous loop, Orban sees Denice Dawn Cyr hit the ground from the bul­lets fired by him and a fel­low po­lice of­fi­cer.

“You couldn’t make a movie that was as in­tense as those sec­onds,” says the now-re­tired sergeant. At the point the 20-year-old woman falls, the “movie” sud­denly speeds up as Orban and other of­fi­cers rush to give first aid, try­ing to save the life they were tak­ing sec­onds be­fore.

“I don’t want her to die. No one wants her to die.”

As shoot­ings by Saskatchewan po­lice of­fi­cers hit the head­lines once again, Orban has agreed to give a glimpse into such in­ci­dents from an of­fi­cer’s per­spec­tive.

Twelve years have passed since Cyr’s death, but the day re­main vividly etched in Orban’s mem­ory.

“It’s not some­thing you would wish upon your worst en­emy, be­cause it never does go away.”

If Orban could change the fi­nale of that movie he’s re­played so of­ten, Cyr would have sur­vived her en­counter with the po­lice on Jan. 28, 1996.

But that wish is tem­pered by the be­lief that had there been an al­ter­nate end­ing, Orban or an­other of­fi­cer or some­one else on that street cor­ner might have died at the hands of the trou­bled young woman armed with a loaded pis­tol.

“I’m not proud of the fact that I had to take some­one’s life. I was do­ing my job,” says Orban, who was an RCMP of­fi­cer for two years and a Regina po­lice of­fi­cer for 26 years un­til his re­tire­ment in March 2006.

While an of­fi­cer trains for and knows he may have to shoot some­one, the odds are ac­tu­ally pretty slim that he will. Orban had never fired his gun at any­one in nearly two decades of polic­ing un­til shoot­ing Cyr. In the 116year his­tory of the Regina Po­lice Ser­vice, six peo­ple have died in shoot­ings by of­fi­cers. (One of those vic­tims com­mit­ted sui­cide af­ter be­ing shot by po­lice.)

Po­lice of­fi­cers are trained to fire at “cen­tre mass” or the up­per torso. Un­like movies, po­lice of­fi­cers don’t shoot to wound or shoot guns out of peo­ple’s hands.

“Hu­manly, I couldn’t do that. I wish I could,” says Orban.

“If you start think­ing that you can shoot to wound, there’s a good chance you’re go­ing to miss. And there’s a good chance you’re go­ing to be the vic­tim, or you’re go­ing to cause some­one else to be in­jured,” he adds. “That’s like say­ing, ‘Shoot the ap­ple off their head.’ That’s fic­tion.”

While fate is de­cided in frac­tions of a sec­ond, Orban says he still weighed all pos­si­bil­i­ties, re­ly­ing on his train­ing for a “log­i­cal re­ac­tion.”

“You have to phys­i­cally and men­tally ab­sorb ev­ery­thing that’s go­ing on and make the best de­ci­sion you pos­si­bly can,” he says. “This isn’t a war. This is a street in down­town Regina … You’re out there for pub­lic safety.”

It be­gan with a call from a man about a young woman who had fired three shots in­side an apart­ment and fled with at least one gun.

“She just went wild,” the un­in­jured man, who had bul­lets whizzing by his head, told a 9-1-1 op­er­a­tor around 9 a.m. He was miss­ing his .44-mag­num re­volver as well as the .22-cal­i­bre pis­tol that he ac­tu­ally saw the woman take.

Orban, then a cor­po­ral, was only a few blocks away and quickly headed to­ward the area near 13th Av­enue and Ottawa Street. He thought he saw the sus­pect, whom he’d never dealt with be­fore, en­ter a house on 13th Av­enue.

As backup ar­rived, of­fi­cers went to speak to the man in the Ottawa Street apart­ment while oth­ers es­tab­lished a perime­ter. Orban saw a woman who fit the sus­pect’s de­scrip­tion come out of a du­plex and walk back up the street to­wards the of­fi­cers who were in a po­lice car with the man from the apart­ment.

“That changed the whole sit­u­a­tion again, be­cause you can’t sit back and wait for some­thing to hap­pen … They’re go­ing back to a sit­u­a­tion where now you have two cops, with the per­son this per­son may have been shoot­ing at. Are they go­ing back to fin­ish the job?” Orban says.

The plan was to move in and ar­rest the woman be­fore any­thing could hap­pen. Const. Alex Yum was a few me­tres be­hind Cyr on the side­walk, while Const. Rick Sy­monds moved along in front of the houses. Orban, across the street, was par­al­lel to them.

“She had a big win­ter coat on. You can’t as­sume she has the guns on her, be­cause she could have left them in that house. And you can’t as­sume she doesn’t have them on her,” Orban says.

Yum and Sy­monds were shout­ing for Cyr to stop, but the in­tox­i­cated young woman seemed obliv­i­ous to their de­mands. Orban, likely out of her view, shouted at her by name, say­ing “Denise, talk to me. Stop here. Let’s talk about this.” Cyr ini­tially stopped, turned to­ward the other of­fi­cers, threw her arms into the air, then out to her sides. But then she in­ex­pli­ca­bly turned and con­tin­ued up the street, ig­nor­ing fur­ther de­mands for her to stop.

Orban, angling to­wards Cyr, hoped to get close enough to tackle her. He says his pep­per spray was use­less at that point — even if he could get close enough — be­cause it would have hit her in the back.

He is con­vinced to this day that Cyr didn’t even re­al­ize he was to her side — that she thought it was Yum who had called to her by name. “That’s who her at­ten­tion was on … I was out of her line of sight.”

Cyr turned to her left, away from Orban and to­wards Yum. Her hand came out with “some­thing.” Orban wasn’t ab­so­lutely sure what it was — and “some­thing isn’t good enough.” He hes­i­tated.

At the sub­se­quent coroner’s in­quest, Yum said he was clos­ing in to tackle Cyr when she stopped, yelled “F--you,” pulled out the pis­tol and fired.

From Orban’s van­tage, “I saw the gun in her hand, and I saw Alex … I re­mem­ber see­ing a puff of smoke out the end of the gun and hear­ing a pop. There was no loud bangs.

“I re­mem­ber think­ing, ‘I waited too long.’ I thought Alex had been shot.” Fo­cused on his own ac­tions, he doesn’t even re­call Yum fir­ing. But both he and Yum shot Cyr. Sy­monds also thought he fired at her, but the foren­sic ev­i­dence said oth­er­wise.

“It was like ev­ery­thing was in stop mo­tion. Ev­ery time you pull the trig­ger you heard just a pop and saw just a lit­tle puff of smoke come out of the bar­rel of your gun. And at the same, you’re con­cen­trat­ing on ev­ery­thing that’s go­ing on and you’re think­ing, ‘What in the hell is hap­pen­ing here?’ ” says Orban.

Cyr had both the .22-cal­i­bre pis­tol and the .44 mag­num, which was in the waist­band of her pants.

Hours be­fore the con­fronta­tion, the dis­traught young woman had told a friend, “I can see my own death.”

The po­lice of­fi­cer sud­denly as­sumes the role of sus­pect as the in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­gins.

Orban re­mem­bers re­ceiv­ing the stan­dard po­lice warn­ing, hav­ing his cloth­ing and gun seized as ev­i­dence, giv­ing a blood sam­ple to check for in­tox­i­cants, and mak­ing a state­ment.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion found the of­fi­cer’s ac­tions were jus­ti­fied in the cir­cum­stances.

“You do need to know that you did the right thing, or that there weren’t op­tions that you missed. Good God, I’ve re­lived that mo­ment a mil­lion times since then, where you sit there and think, ‘What could I have done dif­fer­ently?’ And you sec­ond guess.”

Orban has no prob­lem with his ac­tions be­ing ex­am­ined ob­jec­tively, but bris­tles at sug­ges­tions his mo­tives were more sin­is­ter. In the days af­ter Cyr’s death, two so­cial-action groups lev­elled ac­cu­sa­tions of racism.

“That wasn’t the case. Never in my ca­reer did I look at the colour of some­one’s skin … This sit­u­a­tion hap­pened be­cause of the firearms in­volved.”

His life was pre­served that win­ter day, but Orban cer­tainly didn’t walk away un­scathed. In the af­ter­math, there were bouts of in­som­nia, night­mares when he could doze off, and feel­ings of be­ing “marked.” A doc­tor said he was deal­ing with post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der.

Orban strug­gles to get his words out as he re­calls re­turn­ing home that night and telling his then-11-year-old daugh­ter what had hap­pened.

“She asked if I had any other choice. And I said, ‘No, I didn’t.’ And then she asked if this lady had any kids of her own,” he says, try­ing to con­trol his emo­tions. “The im­pact on me I can live with … but how it af­fects your kid, your wife, your mom and dad. How it af­fected her (Cyr’s) par­ents, her friends, her fam­ily …”

As his emo­tions give way, Orban says, “Cops aren’t ma­chines. This is 12 years later and it’s like it was yes­ter­day. Twelve years from now if I’m still alive, it will be like it was yes­ter­day.”

(Sec­ond in a six-part se­ries. On Wed­nes­day, the third story in the Deadly Force se­ries fo­cuses on one Regina fam­ily who lost a loved one in a po­lice shoot­ing.)

Denice Cyr

BRYAN SCHLOSSER/Leader-Post files

Regina po­lice in­ves­ti­gate the scene fol­low­ing the shoot­ing of Denice Dawn Cyr by po­lice of­fi­cers on Jan. 28, 1996.

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