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Family of woman killed by VicPD officer says they've never received apology, have been lied to

Cheryl Peterson said in a statement to a public hearing that she feels fear when she sees a police car ever since her mother's death in 2019
Lisa Rauch died in December 2019 after being shot with plastic projectiles by a police officer. FAMILY PHOTO

The daughter of a woman killed by a Victoria police officer on Christmas Day 2019 has lost trust in the police and feels fear when she sees a police car, a family friend told a public hearing Tuesday.

“I get nauseous and frightened and I don’t feel safe looking to the police for protection or help with any situation, considering the amount of lies I’ve witnessed in this matter that I believe are still being covered up,” Lenora Spencer said, reading from a statement written by Cheryl Peterson, at the hearing into police officer Ron Kirkwood’s actions in the death of Peterson’s mother, Lisa Rauch.

Rauch, 43, was shot in the back of the head with plastic projectiles from an ARWEN, a “less lethal” weapon designed to cause pain and incapacitate a person, fired by Kirkwood on Dec. 25, 2019. She died four days later from blunt-force head injuries after being removed from life support.

Officers had been called to a supportive housing facility on Pandora Avenue after Rauch, who had been drinking and using crystal methamphetamine, barricaded herself in someone’s unit and threatened the tenant with a knife. She was alone in the unit when police arrived.

Kirkwood faces allegations of abuse of authority in firing the ARWEN gun at Rauch and neglect of duty in connection with his lack of documentation of the fatal shooting.

He previously told the public hearing he fired three ARWEN rounds into the smoky room after seeing movement. He believed he was targeting Rauch’s torso, he said.

Training for the ARWEN dictates that the projectiles not be aimed at the head, clavicle or neck and that officers must have a clear line of sight to ensure they don’t hit a vulnerable part of the body.

Rauch’s mother and sister also read statements Tuesday describing their loss of trust in police after realizing they were given an inaccurate narrative of the events leading to Lisa’s death.

“This lack of trust has been forced upon me because I didn’t receive any sort of truth, honesty or transparency in any of the emails, paperwork, phone calls or in personal conversations throughout the more than four-year-long process,” Peterson said in her statement.

The process was handled unprofessionally from Day 1, with no accountability for anyone involved, she said.

When an intensive-care-unit doctor working on Rauch said “she ran at police with a knife and they were forced to shoot her,” Peterson said she questioned the narrative, noticing her mother’s injuries were on the back of her head. “I asked right then: ‘How is that possible?’ ”

Peterson said she believed the story she was told for nine months, until B.C.’s police watchdog released a public report that finally told the real story, but cleared Kirkwood of wrongdoing.

Who did the incorrect story come from? she asked.

“She was worth every day of this fight for the truth about what actually happened that day, and in the years following. I will never get the whole story,” Peterson said in her statement.

Audrey Rauch, Lisa Rauch’s mother, said the family believes Kirkwood abused his authority when he fired an ARWEN from a short distance into a room filled with thick smoke that obscured his line of sight.

The fire, which officers previously testified ramped up the urgency of the situation because of the risk to others in the building and to officers, “was obviously exaggerated,” she said.

Officers who were in the hallway outside the unit previously told the public hearing they worried Rauch had used accelerant to start a fire. No accelerant was used, she said.

They also said they needed to get Rauch out of the room immediately so firefighters could tackle the fire.

In fact, the fire was extinguished by the time Kirkwood shot the ARWEN, Audrey Rauch said.

Firefighter testimony on when the fire was put out differed from that of police officers. One firefighter said he extinguished the fire immediately and was backing away when he heard shots, while police officers testified they saw flames in the room after the shooting.

Audrey Rauch said Kirkwood magnified the danger her daughter posed with “imagined threats,” and officers made numerous assumptions, including that Rauch started the fire.

“His testimony sounds like panic and paranoia. In my opinion, he allowed his imagination, not self-assured decision-making, to govern his conduct.”

She questioned why an investigation of the fire was not conducted to determine the cause and severity, given the role it played in officers’ decision-making.

Audrey Rauch said the Independent Investigations Office of B.C.’s initial report incorrectly said her daughter was sitting on a burning couch, a mistake that was only corrected after she pointed it out to the agency, leading her to question the accuracy of its conclusion.

“How many other errors were in the report that we could not identify?” she asked.

Audrey Rauch also took issue with comments Kirkwood made to the public hearing that he found it “cold” that he received news that Rauch had been put on life support in a text message.

“Do you know what we found cold? Being lied to about what had happened by the IIO and never, ever receiving a call from VicPD to let us know about the incident at all — that’s cold,” she said.

Kirkwood became emotional when he testified in May about the shooting, telling the public hearing he couldn’t breathe when he saw an injury to Rauch’s head, since he believed he had been shooting at her stomach and chest.

Kelly Rauch, Lisa Rauch’s sister, said the family has never denied that Rauch’s choices on the day of her death were anything but reckless. But the police officer’s decision to “shoot blindly into a small, dark space where their vision was obscured due to a smouldering fire” was also reckless, she said. Rauch was “hilarious, musically gifted, fiercely protective and mentally ill.” She was often without a home, living on the fringes of a society that continuously failed her, Kelly Rauch said.

“We knew she would be vilified. No remorse has been shown. There has been no attempt to apologize and treat our family with a shred of respect or decency.”

Adjudicator Wally Oppal, a retired judge and former B.C. attorney general, is presiding over the hearing to determine if Kirkwood committed misconduct under the Police Act in connection with Rauch’s death.

The public hearing continues Wednesday.

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