Officer begged friend not to harm himself
On the first day of a public inquest into Steven Rigby's death, a childhood friend — who is also a Saskatoon police officer — described pleading with him not to harm himself during a phone call that lasted more than an hour, before hearing gunshots and Rigby's final moments.
Seventeen witnesses are expected to testify this week at the inquest into Rigby's Dec. 22, 2018, death during a confrontation with Saskatoon police and RCMP on the outskirts of Saskatoon.
Rigby was released from the Irene and Leslie Dube Centre the day after he was admitted, and died days later. His family has previously spoken out about the difficulty he had in accessing mental health care, including being placed on a waiting list for an in-patient bed, being moved from counsellor to counsellor and having very brief stays in mental health facilities.
Const. Jordan Lapointe said he doesn't think his friend should have been released from hospital care.
“He had some serious trauma going on with him,” Lapointe said.
He said he was aware Rigby had anxiety, depression and personal issues with his then-girlfriend, and testified to hearing Rigby talk about “going out” in a shootout with police.
Lapointe, who was on duty on the night of his friend's death, said he was told to return to the station after he received concerning calls about Rigby. He reached him by phone and learned his friend had a 9-mm handgun and 21 rounds of ammunition, he said.
Lapointe said Rigby encountered an RCMP roadblock at Valley Road and officers told him to show his hands. During the call, Rigby fired a gun on three occasions, a couple of rounds at a time, the inquest heard. He remained in the vehicle for most of the call.
In the final moments, when Rigby was outside the car, Lapointe said he heard him fire shots, then heard police fire and heard Rigby hit the ground.
He remembers Rigby as one of the “greatest guys,” he said.
Prior to the start of the inquest, Rigby's mother said in a statement that the family viewed police footage filmed on the night he died, which showed he had fired a gun into the air.
“We were relieved to see that the video never showed him shooting in the direction of police or attempting
to do so. It was obvious to us he only wanted to hurt himself, as he shot directly into the sky,” Carey Rigby-wilcox said.
The family hopes to understand why Rigby was discharged from the Dube Centre in the state he was in, what kind of care he received, and if the fatal shots were necessary, she said.
During the first day of testimony, the inquest heard from Dr. Jon Witt, the trauma team leader at Royal University Hospital who pronounced Rigby dead. Witt testified Rigby had injuries to his abdomen, arm and thigh, with the most significant blood loss resulting from the abdominal wound.
Witt said it was “not a survivable injury,” and after consulting with his team, he pronounced Rigby dead at 9:57 p.m.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Andreea Nistor confirmed Rigby's death was due to blood loss. She said he was struck by three bullets, all of which had entrance and exit
wounds; the shot that hit his abdomen damaged two large blood vessels and fractured his pelvis.
Shelly Martin, Rigby's friend and co-worker at the North Battleford store he managed, testified to noticing his behaviour change months before he died. Martin described Rigby as a happy, positive person who started to isolate himself in his office starting in June and July 2018.
She described an incident at work when he locked himself in his office after arguing with someone on the phone and she had to break in. He told her he took several prescription pills and he was taken to a hospital, then was released.
An inquest is a fact-finding, not fault-finding, process that establishes when and how someone died. The process may also highlight dangerous conditions or practices and the jury can make non-binding recommendations to prevent future deaths.