Over two years later, the investigation into the police shootings in Granisle that left a 73-year-old woman and her 39-year-old son dead has concluded with no charges recommended.
The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. (IIO) released a report Friday describing the circumstances that led to the deaths of Shirley and Jovan Williams over two years after the events that shook the small village on the shore of Babine Lake on April 21, 2016.
The report reads that the officer who took the shots said he was forced to first when Jovan ran out the back door wearing an army helmet and tossed a Molotov cocktail and pointed a rifle towards the officer, and then again when Shirley came out with a shotgun and wearing a bullet-proof vest.
Paramedics already on scene rushed to the the Williams, but both died at the scene. No officer was hurt.
There were no witnesses to the actual shootings in the backyard by the officer, who was an emergency response team member and the last to arrive on scene after six officers arrived from nearby detachments. Other officers were surrounding the residence from other sides and the officer in charge was at a neighbour’s residence trying to speak to the pair in their home on Morrison Street.
Because there were no eye witnesses, recorded radio transmissions, witnesses on scene who heard the shots fired and had interacted with the Williams earlier in the day, and physical evidence left at the scene were used to corroborate what happened.
IIO members arrived in Granisle the day after the incident around 2:30 p.m. They gathered information and evidence to construct a timeline of what happened, which started with a reported violent confrontation between neighbours:
–About three months prior to the incident, a dispute between the Williams and two civilian witnesses (CW1 and CW2) took place. Police were informed and told of allegations that on of the witnesses (CW1) assaulted Jovan, and that the two witnesses vandalized the Williams’ property.
– One week before the incident Shirley was at a Granisle business and ran into CW1 and a third witness (CW3), with CW1 reportedly offering to work out differences. That offer was reported as rebuffed with a warning for CW1 as described by CW3: “…if [CW1] comes back in my yard, I’m going to kill [CW1]. And then she turned around and left.” CW1 made notes of a an alleged phone call from Jovan where CW1 was warned, “…stay away from [Shirley] or he will ‘fix’ me.” CW1 and Jovan ran into each other later and CW1 reported that Jovan put something up to his shoulder and made a gesture as, “…you would a gun.” CW1 said later that same day Jovan rode a bicycle on and off CW1’s property, gesturing for the person to come outside, which CW1 did not do.
Day of the shooting
–While walking home from picking up the mail, CW1 said Jovan approached and said not to talk to Shirley. CW1 said they were not, but was pushed anyway. CW1 also said Jovan displayed nylon ties and indicated they were for CW1. As CW1 walked home, they met two other witnesses (CWs 4 and 5). While the group were talking, Jovan was said to come up again and advised CW1 not to speak to Shirley.
–That’s when things escalated. CW1, 4 and 5 reported Jovan produced a handgun and pointed it at CW1, with CW1 and 4 saying he pulled the trigger without it going off. All three witnesses said Jovan took CW1 to the ground and struck with the butt of the handgun. The witnesses said Jovan then said he was taking CW1 into his house for questioning, which CW1 resisted. A sixth witness (CW6) pulled up in a car to ask if CW1 was injured. Shirley came out of her and Jovan’s home nearby, got into her car and pulled out of the driveway, colliding with CW6’s vehicle at the end of the driveway twice and pushing it aside. Shirley returned five minutes later, parking near her house.
–Police were dispatched quickly with the call of a handgun being used during an assault. The Canadian Firearms Registry confirmed Jovan owned a semi-automatic .22 calibre handgun. Officers were aware of the history between the Williams and CWs 1 and 2.
–Officers 2 and 3 were first to arrive at 1:16 p.m., but remained at the end of the block to wait for more officers. Officer 2 was the supervisor on scene. CW1 described what happened to officer 2 within ten minutes.
–Officer 4 arrived at 1:50 p.m., quickly followed by officers 5, 6 and 7. Officer 1, who would later take the shots, was last to arrive as an emergency response team member. Officer 2 advised the team that the risk level was “very high.”
–A plan to engage with Jovan with officer 2 calling him and seeking his surrender while other officers covered all sides of the home was made.
–Officer 1 approached from neighbouring backyards and a treed area back and to the left of the Williams home.
–Officer 2 went to a nearby home with CWs 1, 2, 4 and 5 and called the Williams’ landline. Cell service is limited in the area and most residents rely on landlines. Shirley answered but would not put Jovan on the line or say if he was home. Within seconds of the call ending, officer 1 radioed that, “There’s a man exiting the back.”
From the supervising officer
–Officer 2 told the IIO, “Then there were a couple of more transmissions about him with the gun or having the gun, and a Molotov cocktail of some sort. And then it was broadcast that he lit and threw the Molotov cocktail, and within seconds there was several gunshots. Yeah, I – I’d say two to four, but it was quick succession…”
–Officer 2 said there were then further transmissions and then the sound of a single shot. Officer 2 then left the residence where they were calling from to help the officers.
–Officer 2 told the IIO that officer 1 later said that Jovan came out and threw the Molotov cocktail and leveled his gun at officer 1. Officer 2 also said officer 1 said that when Shirley came out, she went to Jovan first and then levelled her gun at the officer.
All the civilian witnesses who were with officer 2 in the nearby home reported hearing a similar pattern of gunshots at about 2:50 p.m.: an initial set followed a minute or two later by one more shot. A civilian witness not with officer two heard officer 1 say “put down your weapon” three times and then heard two shots and a few seconds later a third shot.
The physical evidence
Jovan was found wearing an army helmet with a camouflaged-patterned cover over a green balaclava. He was also wearing a black jacket with green army webbing that held eight ammunition clips loaded with 10 rounds each. The rounds were usable with the rifle found with him. He was also wearing a black fanny pack with nylon zip ties.
Shirley was wearing ballistic body armour strapped to her chest. Over the body armour was a camouflage jacket and blue camouflage-pattern pants.
The rifle and shotgun found near the deceased were loaded and both had a shell in the chamber.
A black semi-automatic handgun was found in the Williams home.
Autopsies revealed the cause of death for Jovan was two gunshot wounds to the chest. Shirley suffered a single gunshot wound to what the IIO report described as the “upper body.” The bullets were confirmed to be from officer 1’s rifle.
Four shell casings were found behind the property where officer 1 had been standing. Three were close together about 23 metres from where the deceased were located. The fourth was seven metres farther back.
An unbroken, charred bottle with a piece of cloth hanging out was located in the woods behind the home about 27 metres from where officer 1 was located. Other unused Molotov cocktails were located near the home and Jovan’s fingerprints were found on them.
Neither Shirley nor Jovan were found to have the presence of alcohol or drugs in their systems. The toxicological analysis did identify the presence of some components of gasoline on both.
A transcription of what was said by officers was in the report, and played a key role in the investigation as the report states, “those are comments being made by officer 1 as matters unfolded, without significant time for reflection or fabrication.”
The conclusion reads in part, “Given the consistency of all the objective evidence with officer 1’s account, it is not possible to say that officer 1 was not justified in his actions. Indeed, the balance of the evidence supports the conclusion he fired his rifle to protect himself from potential lethal force from guns being pointed at him.”
Son moved in to help mother
Relatives said Shirley moved to Burns Lake from Nashville, Tennessee, and made Granisle her home about 12 years before the incident. They also said Jovan quit his job at Lake Babine Nation to be closer to his mother and help with her mobility issues.
Both Shirley and Jovan had dual citizenship – American and Canadian.
Relatives added that Jovan was a part of the American military for about two years. He received basic training, but was never sent out to a mission.
Two First Nations Chiefs in the Burns Lake area pledged shortly after the shootings to closely watch the investigation.
Lake Babine Nation (LBN) Chief Wilf Adam said he spoke with RCMP officers in both the Burns Lake and Houston detachments, as well as with the chief investigator of the IIO. He said leaders of the First Nations Summit are also closely watching the outcome of this investigation.
“I have talked to them [leaders of the First Nations Summit] and they will stand back to see what comes out of the investigation and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
Chief Adam added that, depending on the outcome of the investigation, First Nations leaders could possibly push for an inquiry.
“There are still lots of questions lingering,” he said.
Chief Adam said he knew Jovan personally.
“He was just like any other young fellow,” said Chief Adam. “He had hopes and dreams; he was a shy guy, but he did really well at what he was doing.”
Although Jovan was a member of Cheslatta Carrier Nation for a number of years, he applied to become a member of LBN in late 2015. Jovan worked as a janitor for LBN.
“He did a good job,” said Chief Adam. “He was a hard worker.”
Chief Adam said he was shocked to hear about the shooting. He then urged community members to be careful with how they express their opinions and not to make any derogatory statements.
“Rushing to judgement at this time is not helpful, especially when two people lost their lives,” he said. “We will be monitoring this very closely,” added Chief Adam. “We will find out what happened and ensure that there is closure for the family.”
Lake Babine Nation and Cheslatta Carrier Nation helped cover the costs of the funeral of Jovan and Shirley Williams.
Chief Leween said she also knew Jovan personally. She described him as a “quiet and polite gentleman.”
–With files from Flavio Nienow.