The public will likely have to wait for many months to get the full picture of what happened during the manhunt for Sheldon Kyle Thunderblanket on Trans-Canada Highway near Revelstoke last week, but the answers will most likely become public.
The dramatic incident started when Golden RCMP officer Cst. Amber Brunner was shot at a highway weigh station near Golden on Tuesday afternoon, and ended when fugitive Sheldon Kyle Thunderblanket, 40, was found dead near Revelstoke the next morning.
Aidan Buckley is a spokesperson for the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. (IIO), the official B.C. police watchdog that investigates incidents in which people are killed or seriously harmed due to police action or inaction. The IIO is currently the lead in the investigation.
Buckley said that the IIO had nine investigators on the ground in Revelstoke last week. The investigators were conducting interviews, doing forensic work, and speaking with police officers involved in the incident.
Buckley outlined three different scenarios that could occur going forward.
The first is if the IIO investigation determines that the police had nothing to do with Thunderblanket’s death, and releases the investigation back to police. For example, if Thunderblanket was uninjured before he ditched his vehicle near Revelstoke and fled into the forest. In the bush, he could have succumbed to the elements, an accident, or suicide. Buckley said that if this was the IIO’s conclusion, their investigation could be completed in several weeks, and the investigation would be handed back to police.
This scenario seems unlikely; the IIO’s mandate is to investigate “police-related incidents of death or serious harm.” Regardless of how Thunderblanket died, his death came after a large manhunt was triggered by the shooting of officer Brunner near Golden, which seems to meet the bare minimum definition of the case being “police-related.”
The second scenario is a full investigation by the IIO, which is then referred to the IIO’s Chief Civilian Director (CCD). The CCD then decides whether or not to refer the investigation to Crown prosecutors. It is up to the Crown to determine whether or not to proceed with a criminal case against any police officer. Spokesperson Buckley noted that the IIO doesn’t recommend charges, but just refers the case to the Crown prosecutor. It’s then up to the Crown to determine whether to proceed with a prosecution. This differs from a normal police investigation, where a police department would recommend charges to the Crown, not just refer the case to them.
If this second scenario turns out to be the case here, the public would rely on media reports from the court case for further details on what happened on those eventful days in October.
The third scenario is the IIO report is completed, and sent to the IIO Chief Civilian Director, who then determines that there is no reason to believe an officer committed an offence. In this event, the detailed report into the incident is published on the investigator’s website. A typical report is about 15 pages long. The format of the reports vary somewhat, but they typically contain statements from witnesses, statements officers involved in the incident, and a timeline of the incident. The reports sometimes reference medical reports and other evidence. The reports also contain an analysis of report, and the final decision. This scenario will likely lead to the clearest picture of what happened.
If scenario two or three are the case, it will likely be many months before answers are available. Buckley said the timeline could be eight to 18 months before the report is completed. If it proceeds to court, it would take longer for details to emerge in court.
Since 2012, the IIO has closed 124 cases. 68 of them were closed and reported to the public. 56 of them were referred to Crown for consideration, and nine of those resulted in charges.
In the interim, both the Revelstoke RCMP and the B.C. Coroners Service have referred the Mountaineer’s questions about the case to the IIO.
The IIO is also still appealing for witnesses to the incident, and asks anyone who may have information to speak to them directly.
Revelstoke RCMP thank community
In a statement posted to their website on Oct. 14, Revelstoke RCMP thanked the community for their support during the manhunt.
“The police officers and staff of the Revelstoke Detachment wish to thank everyone who has reached out to offer words of support for the injured officer, as well as their appreciation offered for our efforts to keep the community safe. Police continue to investigate what led to the events of that day,” said Staff-Sgt. Kurt Grabinsky in the media release.
Grabinsky also thanked motorists and residents who were affected during the search.
“The safety of motorists, and that of the general public, was our top priority. The RCMP and its partners will also continue to examine ways to improve communications with motorists in situations involving extended road closures,” he said. “As frustrating as the situation must have been, these decisions were made to maximize the safety of the community.”