BARTLEY INQUEST: ‘He’s a coward hiding behind a badge’
The family of a man shot and killed by Kamloops Mounties nearly two years ago is upset one of the officers involved in the fatal incident wasn’t present to testify at the coroner’s inquest looking into the death.
Wilbert Bartley, 50, was fatally shot by Kamloops RCMP Const. Clay Kronebusch on July 30, 2010 outside a North Kamloops gas station.
The inquest into his death began in the Kamloops Law Courts on Monday, May 14.
“The family came 3,000 miles to be here,” said Anne Cochrane, Bartley’s sister, who travelled from Owen Sound, Ont., with her mother and sister to take in the proceedings.
“He lives here. Why can’t he be here?”
Cochrane was talking about Kamloops RCMP Const. Mark Freeman — Kronebusch’s partner on the day of the shooting — who was not present to testify.
Instead of in-person testimony, the two-man, three-woman jury was shown a video-recording of an interview with Freeman taped at an earlier date.
No reason was given for Freeman’s absence, other than the fact he was “unavailable.”
During a coroner’s inquest, the jury is allowed to ask questions of a witness after he or she provides testimony.
Following Kronebusch’s examination by lawyers, he was peppered with about a dozen questions from jurors — at least two of whom appeared unhappy with his explanation of the events.
Because Freeman’s testimony was taped, no follow-up questions were asked by the jury.
That’s not sitting well with Bartley’s family.
“In our minds, a crime was committed and our brother was killed,” said Wanda Doubt, the other Bartley sibling in attendance.
“Freeman was an accessory and he should have been here,” Doubt said.
Both officers were cleared of any criminal responsibility for Bartley’s death when the Crown decided not to pursue charges.
Kronebusch testified he and Freeman were driving down Tranquille Road in an unmarked police van at about 6 p.m. on July 30, 2010, when Freeman spotted Bartley outside the Robo Esso station.
Freeman, who was behind the wheel of the van, pulled a U-turn and drove into the Esso parking lot, the jury heard, to speak with Bartley about an old file.
The van pulled in next to a black Toyota 4-Runner SUV Bartley was driving and Kronebusch said he got out to speak with the man — who appeared to be acting “erratically.”
The jury heard Freeman then pulled the police van in behind Bartley.
The 4-Runner reversed, colliding with the police van. Bartley’s vehicle then lurched forward and Kronebusch fired three shots — each striking Bartley in the head.
The SUV wound up plowing into the front window of a coffee shop next door to the gas station and Bartley was pronounced dead about 30 minutes later.
Bartley was not wanted on any warrants and Kronebusch testified he was “free to leave” at any time.
One of the jurors took issue with that statement, asking why the police van was pulled in behind Bartley’s vehicle.
“The only reason I could think was he [Freeman] was trying to give me some room to get out of there,” Kronebusch replied.
The juror then said she was confused by the situation and left wondering who was at fault for the initial collision — Freeman or Bartley.
Outside of court, the family questioned Kronebusch’s testimony that he decided not to provide first aid to Bartley after the shooting, even though he is certified to do so.
Under oath, Kronebusch said he “didn’t consider it” because Bartley appeared to be dead or near death after the SUV went through the coffee shop window.
Kronebusch did, however, reach into the 4-Runner to turn the vehicle off.
“The window [of the coffee shop] was hanging down and I thought it posed a great danger,” he said.
“I decided to wait for EHS [ambulance].”
In earlier testimony, Kronebusch said his “main concern” was his own personal safety — thinking Bartley might run him down with the SUV.
“He’s a coward,” Doubt told KTW.
“It’s all about him. ‘I didn’t want to go check his pulse because I was scared.’
“He’s a coward hiding behind a badge.”
The inquest was originally slated to run all week, but is now expected to wrap up as soon as today (May 15).
At its conclusion, the jurors will have the opportunity to present recommendations aimed at preventing similar incidents in the future.
AUDIO: Click here to listen to a recording of the Kamloops RCMP's radio in the hectic moments after Wilbert Bartley was shot and killed.
FROM LAST SUMMER'S EXCLUSIVE KTW SERIES