The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. has cleared the RCMP in Golden and Revelstoke in the death of Sheldon Kyle Thunderblanket, who was the subject of a manhunt near Revelstoke on Oct. 11 and 12, after shooting and injuring an RCMP officer near Golden.
The IIO released a statement on Oct. 28, saying Thunderblanked died of a head trauma consistent with a fall, and that they were releasing jurisdiction in the case.
“The IIO’s investigation has concluded there is no causal connection between death of the male affected person and actions or inactions of police,” said the IIO in a statement.
The IIO report says that at 2:12 p.m. on Tuesday, October 11, 2016, RCMP were conducting a road stop and check on Highway 1 in Golden B.C. when Thunderblanket exited his vehicle and fired shots at an officer.
Thunderblanket, 40, was also fired at and hit by an RCMP bullet at that time, however, the extent of his injuries at that time was unknown.
The officer, Cst. Amber Brunner of the Golden RCMP detachment, sustained non-life-threatening injuries. She was injured in the arm and had to undergo reconstructive surgery. Thunderblanket then fled on foot and hijacked another vehicle, at gunpoint, which he used to flee the scene.
The IIO said Thunderblanket then drove the vehicle towards Revelstoke, where he again interacted with police.
It was just after 4 p.m. when police located the vehicle nine kilometres east of Revelstoke and pursued the vehicle on the highway.
Revelstoke RCMP set up a road block and deployed two spike belts in an attempt to stop the vehicle. The vehicle failed to stop and shots were fired by police.
During their investigation, the IIO found that eleven expended casings from police carbines were recovered from the scene in the vicinity of the spike belts.
“It can be confirmed one of the bullets struck the vehicle on the driver’s wing mirror,” the IIO said in a statement. “The affected person was not hit by any police bullets at this scene.”
Thunderblanket continued to drive his vehicle until he was out of sight, 200 metres from where the police laid their spike belts. The police held back at a distance of about 75 metres from the vehicle for about 40 minutes while they waited for an emergency response team to arrive.
“By then, the affected person had exited the vehicle, crossed the highway and made his way down a steep embankment. A police service dog was then deployed with no success. Police concluded the search at 11:42 p.m. when they set up containment around the forest,” the IIO stated.
The search for Thunderblanket resumed the next morning, and at just after 10 a.m. on Oct. 12 he was located deceased, in a river.
“An autopsy was completed and attended by an IIO forensic investigator. The autopsy concluded the cause of death to be a head trauma consistent with an impact against a rock. The male sustained a flesh wound in the forearm from what is believed to be a 9 mm bullet. This wound is believed to have been caused by the first interaction with the officer in Golden,” the IIO said in their statement.
In an interview with the Revelstoke Mountaineer, IIO spokesperson Aidan Buckley said that the IIO had released their jurisdiction of the investigation because the flesh wound to Thunderblanket’s arm didn’t meet the IIO’s definition of serious harm.
“That initial injury wouldn’t have met our definition of serious harm,” Buckley said. “There is no cause of a direct police action which resulted in [Thunderblanket’s death].”
Buckley confirmed that Thunderblanket’s body was found in the Illecillewaet River, which runs roughly parallel to the Trans-Canada Highway east of Revelstoke. Sections of the river in the area, such as in Box Canyon, are characterized by rocky, sheer cliffs that could easily lead to a fatal fall.
The IIO sent nine investigators to Golden and Revelstoke to look into the case. While here in Revelstoke, they interviewed civilian witnesses and police. They reviewed police radio logs, video evidence and physical evidence at the scene. According to the Police Act, the IIO must investigate incidents where there is serious harm as a result of police action.
“The IIO’s investigation concluded that there is no causal connection between any of the actions of police and the death of [Thunderblanket.] As such the IIO will be releasing jurisdiction of this matter,” the IIO said in a statement.
The investigation has been “released” by the IIO, and now the RCMP and BC Coroners Service continue to investigate.
B.C. Coroners Service spokesperson: Public inquest possible
B.C. Coroners Service spokesperson Barb McLintock said they will continue to investigate the incident, saying it was too early to say how long the investigation would take.
She said the investigation will look at the entire incident, from Golden to Revelstoke, to find out more.
She said one of the findings they would seek to would be to determine if this was an instance of an “in custody” death. She said she had seen the IIO’s statement from Oct. 28, which said Thunderblanket had fled from a roadblock east of Revelstoke. However, she said the issue of whether Thunderblanket was in custody will be part of the B.C. Coroners Service investigation.
“Sometimes there is a thin line when you are looking at pursuits from a legal point of view,” McLintock said. “It may end up going to a public inquest, but it’s too early to say.”
The B.C. Coroners Service investigates unnatural, sudden, unexpected or unexplained deaths. Their mandate is to improve public safety and to determine the cause of death and classify the death, but not to place blame.
The Revelstoke Mountaineer has contacted the Revelstoke RCMP for comment, but a police spokesperson was not immediately available.
At the time of the confrontation with B.C. RCMP, Thunderblanket was wanted in Saskatchewan for murder and attempted murder in a shooting incident on Oct. 10 that left Tami Frank dead and her sister Lacy seriously injured. Family members told local media that Thunderblanket was the estranged ex-boyfriend of Tami Frank.