The Vancouver police officer who shot and killed an engineering student from Alberta in 2015 says he opened fire because he had no other option.
Const. Albert Lu — who later won awards for valour for his actions the day of the death — spoke on Tuesday during the second day of a coroner’s inquest into the death of Abdi Hirsi.
Hirsi, 26, was shot on April 9, 2015, after witnesses say he stabbed two men with a knife and began repeatedly stabbing a woman who happened to be nearby.
Const. Lu arrived to what he called a dangerous situation. He says he was faced with an incoherent Hirsi, who had a dead stare and did not listen when Lu ordered him to drop the knife.
He says his priority was keeping people nearby — and the officers involved — safe.
“I wish I would never have to do this. I went over and over it in my head. We did everything we could have done,” Lu said.
It’s still unclear why Hirsi began attacking two men near the First United Church that day. Witnesses testified that the agitated Hirsi ordered one man to pray and kneel.
Hirsi’s mother claims her son had been robbed by somebody in Vancouver, and he’d been depressed and stressed after finishing engineering exams in Calgary. But why he attacked remains a mystery.
Lu — a seven-year officer — said he arrived to see Hirsi slashing at people. He said he only had seconds to assess the situation, and first tried non-lethal force methods, as per his training. But those methods did not work, he said.
Bean bags used first
Lu explained to the coroner’s jury that non-lethal weapons training is not mandatory for all Vancouver police officers — and on some shifts none of the officers working are trained in the less-deadly weapons.
He told the jury that some officers opt not to train, as they don’t want the added responsibility and risk it can create if an officer makes the wrong call.
But, at the time of Hirsi’s death, Lu said he opted to use bean bag rounds initially.
He had not yet trained with a stun gun or Taser — hand-held electric weapons that are effective up to 10.6 metres away. But, even if Lu had been armed with a Taser, he says it wasn’t the appropriate situation for one.
He, and other officers who testified, said stun guns are most effective if the user can get three to four metres away from the target. In this situation, said Lu, Hirsi was too violent, and the situation too chaotic.
‘A thousand-yard stare’
Lu’s partner, Const. Ann Fontaine, said Hirsi was ranting and “growling” when they arrived.
Officers testified that Hirsi was running, armed with a knife in his right hand.
At some point, Hirsi seemed to back away. One juror asked why officers were so aggressive and chased him. Lu explained he didn’t want Hirsi to run or hurt another bystander.
Lu yelled at him to drop the knife but said Hirsi didn’t seem to hear him. One juror at the inquest asked Lu if Hirsi said anything. Lu said no.
“He had a thousand-yard stare — he was just determined. A look of determination,” Lu said.
So, Lu shot Hirsi eight times with the bean bag rounds. Lu said he was then shocked to see Hirsi keep moving.
“I’m thinking what’s going on? Am I dealing with somebody with body armour now?”
So, Lu used his gun. In the video, the gun fires at least three times.
No other options
Hirsi was dead by 5:11 p.m., within seven minutes of Const. Graham Webb’s arrival. Webb described Hirsi as bleeding from his head with his eyes rolled back.
At this point in Webb’s testimony, Hirsi’s mother sobbed and left the inquest room.
Webb is a 23-year-officer with a previous policing career in Britain where officers “have fewer options.” He said British police do not commonly carry guns — using shields and batons instead.
A juror asked how common stabbings were on the Downtown Eastside, and Webb estimated there is at least one stabbing a week. He said in this situation, there were no other options.
“This was a lethal force situation,” he said.
Constables Lu, Ann Fontaine and Greg Parkes won a commendation for their actions saving bystanders from Hirsi in 2015.
The inquest continues Wednesday before the jury is expected to begin deliberations.
A coroner’s inquest explores what caused a death and makes recommendations but assigns no fault. Hirsi’s death sparked a mandatory inquest as he was considered in police custody when he was shot.