Prime Time Crime

(Prime Time Crime exclusive April 18, 2011)

Armchair Quarterbacks

By Bob Cooper




The headline should have been that Cameron Ward finally won a case.  Instead, words like ‘negligent’ and ‘flawed’ are being tossed around by the press like confetti.  I refer, of course, to the judgment 2011 BCSC 456 in the case of the fatal shooting of Majencio Camaso, 33, by Constable Kris Dukeshire in Saanich in 2004.  Camaso’s wife called the Saanich Police when Camaso who was deranged and off his medication tried to set their apartment on fire.  Constable Dukeshire chased him to a nearby elementary school playground where Camaso advanced on him with a crowbar in one hand and a metal bar in the other, either being quite capable of causing death or grievous bodily harm.  Const. Dukeshire shot Camaso 3 times killing him when he refused to stop.

The judgment is 117 pages long and microscopically picks apart an event that occurred in seconds.  It includes criticisms such as “When the pursuit commenced, Constable Dukeshire was not involved in a dangerous activity”.  The judge has obviously never chased a crazy person.  He’s also critical of the fact that no warning shot was fired.  Saanich PD permits them but only when there is “no substantial risk of injury”.  They were by an elementary school.  Can you imagine the reaction of the parents?  The difference in physical size between Const. Dukeshire and Camaso was referred to while the well known fact that mental people often have the strength of ten and are impervious to pain was ignored.  

When I came on, the job was 10% rules and 90% common sense.  Now the inverse is true.  We didn’t have a formal policy for officer-involved shootings because we didn’t need one.  Everyone who fired turned their guns in and were issued replacements and all who were present went up to Homicide and gave their statements.  They didn’t hire lawyers because they didn’t need them.  They’d just done their jobs.  This case is a classic example of why that doesn’t happen anymore.

The ability to perceive and recall events as well as to express oneself are all affected by the trauma of a shooting.  A good friend of mine emptied his gun into a guy who still managed to stab him.  An hour later in the hospital he couldn’t remember the shooting.  No matter how honest and cooperative you are every word in your statement will be twisted and used against you later by some lawyer with an agenda, an axe to grind, (or both) or just a contingency fee as long as he wins.  The question of indemnification is also a factor.  Historically, indemnifying cops has been standard practice because cities know if they don’t the cops will stand back and do nothing but it’s by no means a given and if the city decides not to, the individual cops involved would face financial ruin & that’s why they consult counsel and don’t give a statement until they do. 

This gives rise to allegations of preferential treatment which led to a long standing debate in the Homicide Squad when we handled officer-involved shootings.  Some guys would automatically read a cop his rights after he shot someone saying that they didn’t want it to appear that the policeman was being treated differently than an ordinary citizen.  Simply put, the police are different.  Ordinary citizens are not tasked with keeping order in their communities.  The police do this on their behalf.  The law allows the police to use force if necessary to do “anything that they are authorized or required to do”.  Also, the police normally advise someone of their Charter Rights only if they have evidence or a strong suspicion the person has committed a crime.  When a police officer used force I didn’t assume that he’d committed a crime unless I uncovered evidence to the contrary.  After all, we issued him the gun and trained him how and when to use it in the first place.

Whether the investigation is being conducted by the police or an independent agency I say that any policeman is entitled to that initial presumption and not to be treated like a criminal when he’s simply done his duty.

As to the “flawed” investigation, Saanich doesn’t deal with officer-involved shootings too often which, I grant, is an argument for having one agency handle them all.  Specialization always yields better results.  Aside from a few basic mistakes most of the ‘flaws’ were minor, the basic fact pattern was easily established, and there was no evidence of misconduct or cover-up.  I’d also point out that judicial decisions are found ‘flawed’ and overturned by superior courts every single day (like this one hopefully will) but I don’t see lawyers clamouring to have all the judges replaced with untrained civilians although at times the return to common sense would be appealing.

Mr. Justice Burnyeat made his decision in quiet, calm, safe surroundings with all the time in the world at his disposal.  Constable Dukeshire made his in seconds in an atmosphere of danger, distractions, and confusion.  In Paragraph 277, where the judge makes a finding that the shooting was negligent and excessive he starts out with the words “Standing in the shoes of Constable Dukeshire….”.  How ridiculous, even in the abstract.  I suspect that the closest His Lordship has been to a dangerous situation was getting too much mayonnaise on a sandwich.

Bob Cooper is a retired Vancouver policeman.  He walked a beat in Chinatown and later worked in the Asian Organized Crime Section and the Homicide Squad.


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