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Lethal force the only option in Surrey, B.C. hostage-taking, inquest hears

Coroner’s inquest into deaths of couple killed by police in Whalley in 2019 opened April 16
(Black Press Media file photo)

An RCMP incident that ended in the deaths of a Surrey couple in 2019 was “the worst call” Cpl. Frankie Penney has ever been a part of.

Penney testified Thursday (April 18) at a coroner’s inquest into the deaths of Nona Marnie McEwan, 45, and her boyfriend Randy Crosson, 48. The inquest, which started on Tuesday (April 16), is underway at Coroners’ Court in Burnaby.

Penney was a ground team leader of the Emergency Response Team (ERT) that was called to a hostage-taking scene in Whalley on March 29, 2019, when McEwan and Crosson were both killed by police.

Brandon McEwan, Nona McEwan’s son, called 9-1-1 and said he believed Crosson had a gun and his mom was not safe. Police officers were called to the scene around 1o p.m. on March 28 with the report of a woman being held in the house. The emergency response team was “initiated” around 12:30 a.m., Penney said. He had just come off a shift, working from 12 p.m. to 11 p.m. that night, when he received the call.

By the time Penney arrived, police had not been able to confirm a woman was inside the house.

“The impression that I got from general duty (police) at that time was that they weren’t sure what they were dealing with. They run out of options and they called ERT as a precautionary measure because they needed our help to figure out what was what was going on,” Penney said.

Penney gave a play-by-play of police operations prior to the shooting.

Penney was the first ERT member to arrive on the scene at around 12:50 a.m. on March 29.

Events escalated just after 2 a.m., when Penney and Const. Andrew Michaud were at the back side of the house. Penney was tasking Michaud with taking over the rear of the residence.

As they were walking back to the front, they recalled hearing a loud bang and “something fired” in the direction of him and Michaud. He did not see something come out of the window, Penney testified, but he heard it.

“There was a little bit of confusion as to what that was, what direction it came from, and as we kind of gathered more intel, we came to the conclusion that something was fired at us from the direction of the target residents,” Penney said.

Shortly after that, Penney saw a male stick what he “believed to be his” right arm out a window, holding what was believed to be a black pistol.

“He was pointing it in the direction of the armoured vehicle, and I could just hear him being pretty irate, and I couldn’t really ascertain exactly what he was saying other than obviously he wanted the police to leave his property,” Penney said.

At that time, they still did not have confirmation that anyone else was in the house besides Crosson.

It was not until after 3 a.m. that police heard a female voice from inside the home, but Penney was not sure what she said.

About 10 to 15 minutes later, he heard McEwan say, “I’m OK.”

Things progressed throughout the night, Penney said.

Less lethal weapon not an option, officer testifies

A Surrey-based police watchdog — the Independent Investigations Office — in 2020 found the RCMP’s Emergency Response Team blameless in the shooting deaths of McEwan and Crosson. Authorities say Crosson was holding McEwan against her will in her rented home.

Penny testified Thursday that police did not use a less lethal weapon, such as a Taser, for multiple reasons.

“It would be very improper for police in any circumstances, including this one, to utilize a less lethal option when faced with a threat of grievous bodily harm or death,” Penney said.

A less lethal option, such as a Taser, would only be deployed if the subject had “assaultive behaviour.”

“The mantra we say when we’re training tasers is ‘expect them to fail and be pleasantly surprised when they work,’” Penney said.

“It comes down to a timing piece,” Penney said. “By them, essentially wasting time on a less lethal option, basically, I’ll use the analogy you’re bringing a knife to a gunfight,” Penney said. “There’s a gun in play, and you know other weapons in play. The only option that an officer in any capacity would answer that with is, should, would be a lethal force option for their protection and the hostage protection.”

Penney stressed at several points throughout his testimony that entering the room where a hostage is being held is the “last option.”

Penney was outside the house when a member of the ERT entered the bedroom where McEwan and Crosson were. As he and his team made their way to the front door, they could hear shooting.

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Cpl. Peter Koutsoumbos testified after Penney.

In his testimony, he gave a brief explanation of his involvement. As a police explosive expert, he was called in to assist.

Koutsoumbos remotely used a robot to clear the rooms and relayed over the radio that all of the rooms were clear except for one, which had the door closed.

His team provided the charges and worked in conjunction with ERT team members to plan and carry out an explosive entry.

The inquest is underway on the 20th floor of Metrotower II, with coroner Margaret Janzen presiding. She and a jury are hearing evidence from witnesses under oath.

The jury may make recommendations aimed at preventing deaths under similar circumstances but not any finding of legal responsibility.

-With files from Tom Zytaruk

Anna Burns

About the Author: Anna Burns

I cover health care, non-profits and social issues-related topics for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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