EDMONTON — A woman shot and killed by Edmonton police on the weekend was not armed with a genuine handgun, says a civilian agency that investigates police incidents.
Clifton Purvis, executive director of the Alberta Serious Incident Response team, said Monday investigators have determined that Bernadette Auger, 48, was holding a plastic air pistol when she was shot by two officers outside an apartment building Saturday.
The air pistol had originally been made out of clear plastic, but had been painted, Purvis said.
“The item itself that she was holding, the replica handgun, had been altered. It had been painted dark so that it was more similar to the functioning handgun that it was a copy of,” he said during a news conference.
Witnesses have said Auger was shot after she refused officers’ repeated demands to drop what appeared to be a gun.
Her common-law husband, George Coward, 58, has said that Auger had a history of talking about suicide, and perhaps wanted to be shot by police. She was on antidepressants, he said, and had short-term memory loss after suffering a head injury in a car accident eight years ago.
Purvis said his team will investigate all possible motivations Auger may have had for confronting police officers with the plastic replica gun, but wouldn’t speculate what may have prompted her to do it.
Auger was struck by bullets fired from the guns of two officers, Purvis said. One officer had been on the job less than two years, the other was a 13-year veteran of the Edmonton Police Service.
Coward has said the whole thing started when an upset Auger overreacted when she saw her two adult sons fighting over a video game and called police. He said he told police not to send anyone, but the 911 operator called back and said they would have to send officers to check it out.
When two officers arrived, they confronted Auger, who appeared to have a handgun, Purvis said. She went back inside the building and the officers remained outside, Purvis said.
The woman was in the apartment building for up to 20 minutes and then re-emerged for a second confrontation with police, he said. By that time the two officers had called for backup, including from a police dog unit. Several other officers had also arrived on the scene.
Some residents of the apartment building have said Auger was waving what appeared to be a gun at them while she was inside.
Purvis refused to identify the officers who fired the fatal shots and wouldn’t say whether they were among the first officers to arrive on the scene.
He said the agency’s investigation will determine whether the officers’ actions were justified, including their use of lethal force.
It’s important to determine whether witnesses in the apartment building and police at the scene believed Auger was armed with a genuine weapon, he said.
“One of the circumstances we’ll consider is were they reasonable in their belief that this was a functioning handgun. So to examine the handgun and how it appeared and how it appeared to others is critical.”
He couldn’t say how long it might take to complete its investigation.