REGINA – “I think the police shot my uncle!”
Those words were from a frantic Anthony Brass on a 911 call at 2:11 p.m. on the afternoon of July 6, 2021. He was trying to call RCMP to let them know the rifle Ray Steven Bitternose was carrying did not have a bolt, rendering it unable to be used; pleading that they don’t shoot his uncle.
Unfortunately, he was nine minutes too late as Bitternose was laying on the end of the driveway, having been shot by an RCMP officer.
A coroner’s inquest into the July 2021 death of Bitternose began in Regina today.
The morning began with jury selection, made up of four women and two men. Coroner Blaine Beaven noted testimony is anticipated from approximately 10 witnesses - including Bitternose’s father, members of the RCMP, and a forensic pathologist - over the coming days.
On July 6, 2021, RCMP were called to a home on the George Gordon First Nation for a report of a man threatening to shoot people. Shortly after police arrived, Bitternose was shot in an altercation. EMS were called, and officers on scene began first aid measures. Both EMS and STARS arrived, continuing life-saving efforts, but Bitternose ultimately succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced deceased. The Weyburn Police Service conducted an investigation into the death of Bitternose.
The first witness called by Counsel for the coroner Robin Ritter was Steven Geddes - the father of Bitternose.
Through his testimony, Geddes said Bitternose had lived with him on the George Gordon First Nation, located about seven miles from Punnichy where the nearest RCMP detachment is located. Geddes said that Bitternose was schizophrenic, living with him and doing well with monthly injections for treatment.
“I wanted him to come home, so he did. He stayed with me ever since,” Geddes told Ritter during a line of questions about home life. When asked about Bitternose’s behaviour while he was receiving the injections, Geddes explained the medication worked well for his son.
“It settled him right down, he was quiet, never into trouble,” Geddes said.
However, Geddes explained the treatment plan was changing - something that upset his son.
On the day of Bitternose’s death, Geddes had drove to Regina to pick up his daughter. That was when his grandson Brass called with the news that Bitternose had been shot.
“He said ‘Ray got shot from the cops.’ I said, ‘are you serious?’ he said, ‘yeah, they shot him’,” Geddes said. “I’m still hurt. I still cry once in awhile.”
The inquest heard that there was a .22 caliber rifle in the home at time the standoff with police occurred. According to Geddes, it was a gift from his father, and he had removed the bolt from it years prior. It was located in an unlocked closet in the home without ammunition.
Sean Sass, a lawyer representing the RCMP, asked Geddes if Bitternose had ever attempted to self-harm. Geddes did recall one incident where it appeared his son had tried hanging himself and was bleeding from his jaw when he got home. The two men never spoke in depth about the incident, and Geddes testified that Bitternose went to the bathroom to clean himself up.
“He was never violent to anybody, he was quiet,” Geddes said, adding that Bitternose would often retreat to a shack outside the home to be alone.
During the month previous to Bitternose’s death, Geddes had signed a mental health warrant in an effort to get his son the help he so desperately needed.
Answering a juror question, Geddes admitted that he didn’t quite understand the purpose of the form he signed, just that in doing so, Bitternose would get help.
“He was the only son I had,” Geddes said.
The second witness to give testimony was Cpl. Riley Ross, a 10-year member of the Weyburn Police Service who was brought in as an independent investigator. He provided details into how the investigation of the shooting was handled and provided a few recommendations rising from the event.
A video captured from within the police vehicle attending officers arrived with was played, and the 911 call that Brass placed. The video captured the interaction with an armed officer and Bitternose, who had a rifle in his hand. According to Cpl. Ross, there was a dialogue between Bitternose and the officer for approximately eight minutes with Bitternose allegedly telling the officer “just end it, I don’t have anything to live for.”
At one point, the attending officer noted the barrel of Bitternose’s rifle pointed at him, at which point a shot was fired hitting Bitternose in the upper right torso.
Bitternose immediately dropped to the ground, but still moving.
The video from the police unit showed officers attending to Bitternose, the arrival of EMS ending shortly after STARS landed on the gravel road.
The inquest is anticipated to take three days, but has been scheduled for five.
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