Police respond to allegations of excessive force in man-with-knife incident

Abbotsford Police investigators were in the parking lot of the Abbotsford Food Bank last Wednesday after officers fired non-lethal rounds at a man allegedly waving a knife.  - Vikki Hopes
Abbotsford Police investigators were in the parking lot of the Abbotsford Food Bank last Wednesday after officers fired non-lethal rounds at a man allegedly waving a knife.
— image credit: Vikki Hopes

Abbotsford Police are responding to accusations that they used excessive force when dealing with a homeless man with a knife last week, saying they did what was required in a dangerous circumstance.

The criticism was levied Tuesday, following the public release of a video taken by a bystander at the scene of the takedown outside the Abbotsford Food Bank on Wednesday afternoon.

The video shows the man, Roy Roberts, 57, kneeling on the ground as several police officers aim non-lethal guns at him.

Roberts, who is not holding a weapon in the video, is shot with rubber bullets and beanbag rounds when he fails to follow several commands to lie down.

Ward Draper of 5 and 2 Ministries – which advocates on behalf of homeless citizens – said on social media and in a TV interview that police escalated a situation that could have ended sooner.

He said too many police officers were sent to the scene, and it was excessive to shoot Roberts, especially when the knife was not in his hand at the time.

Draper said police have had multiple previous interactions with Roberts, and he questioned why other resources weren't called to the scene.

"Roy isn't a stranger to our city on any level. They should have maybe contacted community agencies to tag along … maybe bring out the mental health officer," Draper said in an on-camera Global News interview.

He said offering Roberts a French vanilla coffee would have been sufficient to end the situation.

"I know Roy better than most people … He's never been a violent threat. He yells, he screams, but that's it. You just leave him alone and that's good," Draper said in the interview.

Abbotsford Police spokesman Const. Ian MacDonald said police responded as they would in any situation in which a weapon is reported.

He said they received "more than one" 911 call, reporting that an "extremely agitated" man was waving a knife and screaming and swearing.

"That's a dangerous situation from a public safety standpoint … (We're) not going to second-guess people who felt there was a potential for harm and called 911," he said.

Hugh Franklin, a staff member at the Abbotsford Food Bank, confirmed that staff called police. He said workers and/or volunteers who observed Roberts' behaviour did not want to comment publicly.

Franklin said the food bank has protocols in place for when a staff member feels unsafe, and this includes locking down the building and calling police.

Those procedures were followed last Wednesday. Franklin said the food bank deals with Roberts on a regular basis, and he has previously displayed erratic and belligerent behaviour.

MacDonald said that although Roberts might not have had a weapon in his hand when police arrived, a knife was on the ground and he easily could have reached for it.

He said there was no way for officers to know whether the man had another weapon on him or in his backpack that was on the ground.

They commanded him to lie down in order to defuse the situation and protect Roberts from injuring himself or others, MacDonald said.

Once Roberts was arrested, he was taken to hospital for treatment of his minor injuries and a mental health assessment. MacDonald said the APD's mental health officer does not come to the scene of such incidents, but connects with resources afterwards.

He said the officer was called in after the incident with Roberts and has been co-ordinating with other agencies to develop a plan for him.

Roberts has been charged with possessing a weapon for a dangerous purpose and has been in custody since his release from hospital. He is slated for a bail hearing Thursday in Abbotsford provincial court.

While he was in hospital, the city cleaned up the camp that Roberts had occupied for several months on Montvue Avenue across from Abbotsford Community Services.



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