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RCMP officers’ search of prisoner for objects failed to find concealed handgun, inquest hears

Two RCMP officers — including a “confident and competent” rookie — searched Jeremy Sabourin for weapons after arresting him on outstanding warrants, but never found the concealed pistol that he later used on himself, a coroner’s inquest heard.
Six binders with evidence sit on a ledge, prepared for jury members looking into the death of Jeremy Sabourin. Photo by Jason G. Antonio

Two RCMP officers — including a “confident and competent” rookie — searched Jeremy Sabourin for weapons after arresting him on outstanding warrants but never found the concealed pistol that he later used on himself, a coroner’s inquest heard.

RCMP Const. Paisley Armstrong with the Assiniboia detachment took the witness stand at Court of King’s Bench in Moose Jaw on April 16, on day 2 of the inquest looking into Sabourin’s suicide in a Moose Jaw Police Service cell on Oct. 7, 2021.

A chance encounter

Sabourin, 40, had been wanted for sexual assault and assault since December 2020 when Armstrong unexpectedly discovered him at an auto parts store on Oct. 6, 2021, while visiting the business on another matter altogether. 

As she walked in, Armstrong said a white Ford Ranger truck caught her eye, as she had been looking for it “for a very long time” and knew the licence plate was registered to Sabourin and that he drove the truck. 

The constable knew she had to exercise “extreme caution” since Sabourin was a known national champion sports shooter who stored firearms in his vehicle and may have carried one personally, so she called colleagues for backup. 

Backup was important since she stood 5-6 while he stood 6-4 and weighed nearly 250 pounds.

Making the arrest

The situation moved quickly because Sabourin attempted to discreetly leave the store, prompting Armstrong to make the arrest. Her main concern was he would go to his truck, which might have a firearm inside, and potentially use it.

Officers later found a loaded 9-millimetre handgun on the front seat of the truck.

“He was described to me as a borderlands, freeman-on-the-land (individual). This would be the type of person who questions lawful authority … (and) Canadian laws and feel they don’t apply to them,” she said. 

“I believed he would resist arrest based on this knowledge.”

Armstrong found the encounter stressful because Sabourin refused to put his hand behind him, saying he needed to put away his purchase, which concerned her because of the possible firearm there. 

After repeatedly and loudly telling the man to obey, Armstrong grabbed the purchase from his hands, threw it on the ground and attempted to cuff him. 

“This all happens very quickly … . I made the decision to make him do this,” she said. 

The two struggled, with the officer cuffing the right wrist; she noticed Sabourin reached for a utility knife in his pocket, so she grabbed it and tossed it to the ground. Eventually, she overcame his efforts, cuffed both wrists and put him in her car.

Backup arrives

Cpl. Mark Dijkstra arrived and, because Armstrong was still catching her breath, read Sabourin his Charter rights and gave him “a quick pat down,” finding several items in pockets. 

Dijkstra also asked the man whether he had any “knives, guns or hand grenades” on his person, something the corporal did to put people at ease. Sabourin replied, “I don’t remember,” which Armstrong noted was not a typical answer.

However, Dijkstra told the inquest, “That’s not the first time I’ve been told that,” noting the answer was and wasn’t suspicious since other prisoners have said odd things and been found with objects on them.

The officers drove to the detachment, where they encountered Const. Colin Tetreault — a rookie — and Sgt. Dennis Silliker, the detachment commander and senior officer. Tetreault then conducted a second search of Sabourin.

Overseeing a rookie

Armstrong, 26, said Tetreault was the first member she had trained and mentored as a field coach. Even though she had roughly three years’ experience then, RCMP policy was members could train others if they had at least two years’ experience. 

Compared to other cadets, Tetreault “had a knack” for searching prisoners and was confident, competent, and didn’t need his hand held, she said. 

“To the best of my recollection, Const. Colin Tetreault performed a textbook search exactly the way we’re taught at Depot,” Armstrong continued. “So much so, that he located this very, very small USB key that was in Mr. Sabourin’s pocket that had been missed previously when he was searched by Cpl. Dijkstra.”

Armstrong and Silliker also watched Tetreault check Sabourin’s socks and feet for hidden items, so thorough was his search. She noted that the only feedback they gave him was to take off the man’s mask next time — this was during the pandemic — to check his mouth. 

Neither Dijkstra nor Tetreault found the small Derringer-type .22-calibre pistol in a holster clipped onto Sabourin’s underwear on the inside. Armstrong said she watched Tetreault check the waistband but didn’t recall seeing whether his finger went inside the underwear. 

“Tetreault was exceptionally thorough. It didn’t seem possible (that he overlooked anything),” she stated.

Failure to follow policy

Armstrong also said the detachment had a metal detection wand — she had used one before — but they never used it then and she didn’t know why. Emotionally, she added that many things were happening at the office and there were “many moving parts” with this file, which could be a reason.

The officers’ original goal was to release Sabourin and have him return for a future court date. However, Tetreault and Silliker went to invest the man’s truck after a resident called saying the vehicle was blocking an alley. That’s when they found the loaded handgun inside.

Returning, they charged him with unsafe storage of a firearm and prepared to ship him to Moose Jaw for provincial court the next day. Armstrong also had Tetreault write up two warrants to search the houses of Sabourin and his parents for the former’s firearms; F Division headquarters approved the requests.

A trip to Moose Jaw

Const. Paul Evans from the Coronach detachment arrived to transport Sabourin to Moose Jaw since the Assiniboia members were busy. Armstrong said Evans likely searched the prisoner before taking him, but she didn’t see it since she was doing something else.

However, Evans told the inquest that he never searched Sabourin because he knew the man had been in cells for about seven hours and he looked like he had already been searched, thus making his efforts “redundant.” 

The constable communicated this to MJPS Staff Sgt. Chris Flanagan when he brought the prisoner to the city cell. 

A lawyer played Evans a video — with poor audio quality — from the Moose Jaw detention cells on Oct. 6, which showed Flanagan allegedly asking whether Sabourin had been searched and Evans allegedly saying, “I didn’t find anything, but somebody else did.”

Evans disputed the video — the lawyer played the clip several times and the audio seemed to verify the comment — and what he said, claiming he actually told Flanagan, “I didn’t, no, find anything.”

Evans also said that he’s taken 10 to 15 prisoners to Moose Jaw throughout his career and city police have always searched people and used a metal-detection wand. However, he said that “this was the only time” police didn’t search one of his prisoners or use a wand. 

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