It was one of the few interactions after more than a thousand traffic stops that stood out.
An RCMP officer testified on Monday that in February 2020 he vowed to Gabriel Wortman to get back in his vehicle after he pulled him over for speeding and the 51-year-old immediately presented himself as a “threat claire” on the way back to the cruiser at Portapique, N.S.
“The way he approached was very direct, determined. He looked furious, I had no idea who this individual was and why he was behaving this way,” Const. Nick Dorrington told a public inquiry into the shooting and arson that left 22 people injured and dead, including a pregnant woman and an RCMP officer.
The exchange “quickly died down”, however, once Wortman was back in his vehicle and they had a brief conversation, Dorrington testified.
‘He started telling me he felt targeted’ and complied after Dorrington explained that the stoppage was in no way prompted by an earlier altercation Wortman had with regional police. Halifax over a parking dispute, the officer said.
The shooter then spoke of his fondness for Ford Taurus cars, that he had a number of them and that he collected police paraphernalia, but Dorrington said the minute-long conversation did not prompt him to worry about public safety.
Dorrington, who spent 17 years in the military before joining the RCMP in 2015, was stationed in Colchester County and was one of the officers who responded to the mass shooting on the night of April 18-19 april. This weekend, he was on call after working a day shift.
During Monday’s testimony, he criticized the role of one of his RCMP supervisors in the response and said he disagreed with the decision to send only one team in. the section of Portapique where people were killed. He also felt he should have been deployed to hunt the shooter the following morning.
After learning he had arrested the suspect a few months prior, Dorrington shared photos he took of the shooter’s license and the back of the disused Ford Taurus he was driving.
He said the vehicle he stopped had faded reflective strips from when it was an RCMP car and there was a small Canadian flag on the back near the trunk.
But, in the same way as several other constables have previously told the Mass Casualty Commission, while contemplating what the suspect was driving, he never imagined a fully marked cruiser like the one the shooter assembled and drove during the rampage.
Frustrated with positioning
Between midnight and 5 a.m., Dorrington and another officer were parked at the Highway 2 enforcement vehicles four miles east of the crime scenes in Portapique.
Dorrington testified that he “had a challenge” with Sgt. Andy O’Brien’s management of moving there as he felt it was “at odds” with his training related to hunting down active shooters.
The public inquiry previously heard that senior officers overseeing the response were concerned about the possibility of sending more than one team to the “hot zone” where the shooter was last seen due to the possible risk to the safety of officers involved in a crossfire or a “blue on blue situation” where they became confused with the suspect.
Commanders did not have GPS coordinates for general duty constables in the field.
But Dorrington said that night he felt the approach should have been to use “as many teams as necessary to locate and neutralize the threat” and agreed with the lawyer’s suggestion. Roger Burrill’s commission that it caused him frustration.
Problems with the role of the supervisor
In a behind-the-scenes interview with commission staff, Dorrington criticized O’Brien’s involvement, given that he was off duty and speaking on the radio from home.
On Monday, he said that while he has since backed down from criticism related to O’Brien’s training, he maintained his involvement made it unclear who was in charge.
“Receiving instructions from Sgt. O’Brien, although I mean well, was creating…extra airtime on the radio, which is problematic. And it created, in my mind, confusion for the channel of command,” Dorrington said.
O’Brien and Dorrington worked closely together Sunday at Portapique. Both stayed in the community keeping tabs on crime scenes.
Once calls started coming in about further shootings in the Wentworth area, Dorrington said he was ‘not allowed’ to leave to help with the manhunt, despite having pleaded his case to O’Brien.
“I felt that given my skills with prior military training in active theater [along] with the RCMP training, coupled with the fact that I had an unmarked vehicle, that I might be in the best position to leave my current location,” he said.
At one point, Commissioner Leanne Fitch asked Dorrington if he had ever taken or taught courses in overseeing a critical incident response. He said he didn’t.
Dorrington said he was a sergeant in the army, so had similar duties to O’Brien and was in charge of a unit in that capacity.
Pass Along Sunday Morning Gunner’s Observation
While in Portapique on April 19, Dorrington advised his wife to take shelter in their basement. He said information gleaned from the shooter’s wife, Lisa Banfield, suggested he had a blacklist and he feared he could be considered a target given he was the last constable in interact with the shooter.
Officers who questioned Banfield in the back of an ambulance previously testified at the inquest and said that although she told them her sister in Dartmouth might be in danger, they did not describe a list black.
Upon learning of the situation, Dorrington’s wife called a friend who noticed a marked RCMP cruiser driving south towards the Halifax area on a side road. Dorrington tried to determine if an actual cruiser was in the area, then radioed his colleagues after the possible sighting.
There was a lot of radio chatter at the time and Dorrington testified that he felt there was “significant delay” in the distribution of his message, which he considered “relevant and high priority”.
Felt gear was insufficient
Equipment and training was another area Dorrington took issue with.
He said that since the RCMP primarily polices rural Canada, more active shooter training should be conducted outdoors and focused more on nighttime scenarios.
Night-vision goggles or hand-held devices to identify heat sources would also be helpful, he said, so general duty officers don’t have to wait for specialized resources like the emergency response team. urgency during a crisis.
Lawyer Sandra McCulloch, who represents many family members of those killed, asked Dorrington about comments he had previously made to the inquest about officers’ safety-related requests being denied by a detachment commander before April 2020.
Those requests included a chair to restrain people who might pose a physical risk to themselves or others at the detachment, Dorrington said.
He also asked for rotating spotlights for vehicles, which he said would help illuminate long driveways and driveways better than the fixed lights on cruiser light bars that only move when a vehicle does.
A request for push bars on patrol vehicles – which he said would be cheaper than repairing vehicle damage – was denied about a week before two of the detachment’s cruisers were written off after one was been supported by another, he said.