CALGARY — A man being interviewed at the headquarters of Alberta’s police investigative unit suddenly turned on an officer Tuesday, stabbing him almost fatally before other investigators rushed in and wrestled him away.
One of those would-be rescuers, a Calgary police officer, was slashed in the hand as he tried to help his fallen colleague.
Police say the attack happened in an interview room at the Calgary offices of the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team.
The officer involved in the struggle, a plainclothes RCMP investigator working for the team, was stabbed three times and rushed to hospital with life-threatening injuries. His condition was upgraded to good after surgery, although he faced another operation Tuesday evening.
Clifton Purvis, who heads the investigative unit known as ASIRT for short, identified the RCMP officer as Sgt. Andrew Johnson, 53, who has been with the force for 25 years.
ASIRT is an independent group that investigates incidents in which someone is seriously injured or killed by the result of police actions.
Local media reports identified the alleged attacker as Lee Christopher Monrose, 30, who had been shot in the head by police last November.
At the time, officers were responding to a call about a suspicious car and tried to pull over Monrose’s vehicle.
Monrose allegedly rammed the police cruiser and that’s when police shot him in the face.
ASIRT is still investigating the incident and has not yet made a ruling on police conduct in the case.
Police would not confirm Monrose’s alleged involvement, and no formal charges have yet been laid, but Purvis said the assailant showed up unexpectedly Tuesday morning and was let into the locked and secure ASIRT office because he’s part of an ongoing investigation.
Johnson led him into an interview room. It’s not normal for witnesses to be searched, and the man, who investigators recognized, was not. There are no metal detectors at the door.
The man did not seem to be violent at the outset, said Purvis.
“During the course of over about 10 minutes, it appears that his behaviour escalated, he became violent and he attacked one of our investigators in the office,” he said.
ASIRT officers are given body armour and weapons, but choose when to wear them. Johnson was not armed or strapped into his protective gear.
The Calgary police officer had his gun at his side but did not draw it, and the 30-year-old attacker received only a bump to the back of his head as he was taken into custody.
EMS spokesman Stuart Brideaux said paramedics feared for the officer’s life as he was being transported to hospital. Photos of him being taken from the building showed a man apparently unconscious with blood over his left eye.
“Since his arrival in hospital he has been upgraded to serious but stable. But to be clear, his injuries are very, very serious,” Brideaux said.
Purvis said the officer’s wife and two sons rushed to hospital to be by his side.
“They’re shaken down to the core, as any family member would be,” he said.
The suspect also appeared to be unconscious as he was taken from the building on a stretcher. There was blood on the pillow behind his head.
In Ottawa, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews issued a news release of support for both injured officers.
“My thoughts and prayers are with these two brave officers who have suffered injuries while in the line of duty,” said Toews. “I wish them a swift and full recovery. This reminds us all of the courage and dedication that police officers show every day.”
Police from Edmonton were heading to Calgary to take control of the investigation, since the original ASIRT investigation involved police in the Calgary area.
They will decide whether to lay charges against the man involved.
Usually there would be audio and video running in the room, but that wasn’t the case because it wasn’t a formal interview, Purvis said.
He added that he coincidentally launched a review of the building’s security several weeks ago.
“We’ll continue with our risk assessment that we’ve initiated, and we’ve employed an outside agency to do an independent risk assessment of our facilities and our practices,” he said.
ASIRT has jurisdiction over all sworn police officers in the province and has offices in Edmonton and Calgary.
Purvis, a lawyer and Crown prosecutor, is ASIRT’s civilian director. Besides several other civilian analysts and investigators, there are 10 police officers on the team.
The unit’s Calgary headquarters is housed in an office building next to the law courts along the city’s C-Train line.
Purvis said none of the ASIRT officers have been attacked or threatened in the past, although he admitted their work can be tricky.
“Every single one of our investigations is emotionally charged and they struggle daily with managing the emotion that is brought to all our investigations.”