Keldon McMillan talked about killing himself several times in the weeks before he was shot to death in a harrowing confrontation with Saskatoon police near Wakaw, the inquest into his death heard Monday.
Just hours before he led police on a high-speed chase on May 20, 2001, McMillan told his newly estranged wife Kim Clayton it was time for him to end his life -- and it would be her fault.
"He indicated that I would be the one carrying the guilt for that," Clayton testified.
Though she did not specify the source of their marital problems, Clayton said she decided to leave her husband on May 18, after a particularly nasty fight in front of their three-year-old daughter.
She had only recently learned that their newly built home on Beerling Crescent in northeast Saskatoon was up for foreclosure, and that financial problems with his business, McMillan Homes, were more severe than he would admit, Clayton said.
She decided to take their daughter to spend the long weekend at the home of Greg Mahar and Sheila Chonacher, who had been friends with the couple for several years. McMillan called the home looking for her at about 2 a.m., then came over to try and convince her to come home, the jury heard.
When she refused and the argument became heated, she went to call 911. At that moment, McMillan made a chilling prediction.
"I heard him say that if I called the police somebody was going to die . . . he said that if the police came there was going to be a shootout," Clayton said.
She knew he sometimes went hunting with his father, but he had promised not to keep weapons in the house. She did not know he owned a handgun, she testified.
On May 19, city police officers spoke to her about obtaining an emergency intervention order, then escorted her home to pick up some clothing. McMillan could not be found.
The next evening, Mahar called police to let them know McMillan was on the phone with Clayton and was likely at the home on Beerling Crescent.
Just as police arrived and began to surround the house to speak with him, he drove his truck out of the garage and cut through the unfinished yard onto an adjoining street. Three city police cruisers followed onto Highway 41.
McMillan avoided one RCMP spike belt during the high-speed chase that followed over the next 80 kilometres, but a second one flattened three of his tires.
Saskatoon police Const. Kenneth King testified McMillan got out of his truck and fired his handgun once into the air almost immediately after he came to a stop several metres from the road's edge, then began walking along the side of a field.
Three city police officers were ranged along the highway's edge, weapons drawn. McMillan ignored repeated commands to drop his gun, so a police dog, Cyr, was ordered to attack, King said.
Cyr was only a few metres away when McMillan raised his pistol and shot twice. Both bullets struck, but the dog still managed to close the distance and bite him once, King said.
"After he shoots the dog, he looks up to the next threat and it's us three, positioned along the ditch," King recalled. "I believe he shot twice at the dog and once at us."
King and another city police officer fired a total of 16 shots from their service revolvers, while a third fired four shotgun blasts. None of the RCMP officers at the scene fired their weapons.
Only the shotgun hit its target, leaving eight pellets in McMillan's chest, pelvis and one leg. He died at the scene within minutes.
A six-member coroner's jury is expected to spend the rest of this week hearing the circumstances of McMillan's death. They are expected to rule on the time, place and cause of death, and may make recommendations on how to prevent similar tragedies, but they may not assign civil or criminal blame.
Several family members, including McMillan's mother Victoria, attended the inquest Monday. They have questioned why police chased McMillan, suggesting his death was racially motivated and could have been avoided if they had backed away and let him cool off.
The family declined comment.
The Saskatoon police officer who fired the shotgun blast that ended Keldon McMillan's life in a darkened field near Wakaw had no idea McMillan had just killed a police dog, the inquest into McMillan's death heard Tuesday.
Const. Gary David testified he had been on the scene beside Highway 41 for less than a minute when McMillan, who was walking into a field with a pistol in one hand, spun around and fired twice in his direction. David only saw muzzle flashes.
"I was faced with the threat of being shot," he testified.
A police dog named Cyr, that was running to attack McMillan, took the bullets instead. David said he did not know the dog had been hit until later. He and two other officers opened fire, but only his shots struck McMillan.
Even as he lay face down on the ground with eight shotgun pellets in his body, the 33-year-old home builder raised his gun as though taking aim once again, David testified. Another officer jumped on McMillan's hand, pinning it to the ground until he was handcuffed. He died seconds later.
David, a 13-year veteran who teaches an officer safety course dealing with high-risk situations, told the inquest the city police officers at the scene acted in perfect accordance with their training. They gave McMillan every possible opportunity to end the situation without violence, even though he'd already fired his gun into the air once, he said.
McMillan died of his wounds at about 10 p.m. on May 20, 2001, after leading city police and the RCMP on a high-speed chase from his home in northeast Saskatoon. A six-member coroner's jury is hearing the circumstances of the incident in Court of Queen's Bench this week.
McMillan was depressed over marital and financial problems, had repeatedly threatened suicide in the three weeks before the incident, and had said there would be a shootout if police were called, witnesses have testified.
Dr. Rani Kanthan, the pathologist who conducted McMillan's autopsy, testified his blood alcohol level was about .13 -- approaching twice the legal limit for driving -- at the time of his death.
Traces of anabolic steroids and cocaine were also found in his system, but she was unable to determine when he may have taken them. The cocaine could have been taken anytime in the previous 10 days, she said.
A group of McMillan's relatives are attending the inquest, but declined comment. Shortly after the incident, they said police could have saved McMillan's life by backing off and giving him some space.
Because McMillan was armed and the standoff took place near a farmhouse, that was simply not in the cards, David said. "For us to let him leave that area with a weapon was not appropriate."
The McMillan family's lawyer, Marty Mimuk, spent several hours cross-examining city police Const. Kenneth King, a senior officer who was on the scene, about the procedures police followed at McMillan's home prior to the chase, and at the scene of the shooting.
Police had already seized guns from the house the previous day and did not know if McMillan had more, so it was too risky to just walk up to his house and ring the bell, King said. McMillan took off in his truck before they could surround the house and call him.
"There was no time. Absolutely none," he said.
Feb. 4, 2002: An inquest has been ordered into Melvin Bigsky's death. A few days later a similar inquest was ordered for McMillan. As is common with these inquests, they are not allowed to find fault or lay charges although they are commonly used later to absolve everyone concerned of responsibility. They can also make recommendations but police in Saskatchewan pay no attention to recommendations. See Zoorkan and Dueck in the Kim Cooper case.
An inquest into the death of Keldon Garfield McMillan will take place beginning Nov. 25 at the Court of Queen's Bench in Saskatoon.
McMillan was fatally shot on May 19, 2001, during an altercation with Saskatoon city police and the RCMP. The shooting occurred east of Saskatoon, on Highway 41, about 10 kilometres from Wakaw.
The inquest has been ordered by the chief coroner for Saskatchewan. The presiding coroner will be Douglas Kovatch of Regina.
Inquests are open to the public. Evidence is given before a six-person jury, summoned at random.
In addition to establishing when and where the death occurred and the medical cause of death, the coroner's jury may make recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future.
The high-speed chase and armed standoff that ended in the police shooting of Keldon McMillan was not necessary, and officers should be reprimanded for such aggressive tactics, says McMillan's mother.
"I'm blaming this on (the police). They killed my son - murderers. None of this should have happened. Something's got to be done," Victoria McMillan said in an emotional interview Tuesday afternoon in the living room of her Westmount-area home, where her only son grew up.
"He was a good son. We're so proud of him. Now he's gone."
McMillan's body will be returned to the family this morning. Victoria McMillan said they have been discussing arrangements with the family of McMillan's wife, Kim, who could not be reached Tuesday.
Victoria McMillan said the families have a good relationship and "are giving each other moral support."
Police went to Keldon McMillan's Beerling Crescent home Sunday night to seize a suspected store of firearms, as well as serve him with an order barring him from contact with his wife.
When McMillan arrived home, he didn't get out of his vehicle. Instead, he drove through his yard and fled in his truck out to Highway 41 toward Wakaw with three city police cars in pursuit.
His truck was disabled by a police spike belt placed by RCMP and came to a stop roughly 10 kilometres west of Wakaw. According to police, McMillan got out of the truck and fired warning shots. He ignored commands to drop his handgun and then shot a police dog when it attacked him.
McMillan then pointed the gun toward the officers and was shot and killed, said police. They would not say which of the 11 RCMP and Saskatoon city police present fired or how many bullets were discharged.
"Eleven against one. I call them a killing squad. They're more worried about that damned dog," Victoria McMillan said before breaking down crying. She was comforted by her daughters, cousins and more than a dozen other relatives gathered at the family home.
She and other family members question the need for a police chase, when the main objective was to seize the guns in the house.
"They should have taken the guns (out of the house) and let him go and cool off," said McMillan's aunt, Beverly Gardipy.
"He's not the type to do this. He didn't snap. They pushed him to this."
Once the chase had ended and McMillan's truck was disabled in the middle of an open field, police should have been patient and simply stayed back, the family maintains. Instead, they yelled orders at him to drop his weapon, attacked him with a police dog and then shot him when he pointed the gun toward police.
They also question why police had to station themselves close enough to McMillan to fear being shot with a handgun. Family members say he would have calmed down if police had kept their distance.
"They should have contacted me and his father. We could have talked to him, told him to give the police the gun," said Victoria McMillan.
Saskatoon city police Chief Dave Scott and RCMP Sgt. Ron Toogood said there are no indications police acted improperly, but they'll wait until the investigation is complete to comment in detail.
City police Staff Sgt. Gary Lewis said the officer on the scene makes the decision whether to begin a chase. Once the chase begins, the "pursuit policy" requires a call to a supervisor to get instructions.
He said there are so many scenarios that defining exactly when to chase would be impossible. "But if somebody runs a stop sign, you're probably not going to end up in hot pursuit," Lewis said. "It will escalate as the offence increases - armed robbery or murder or something like that."
Lewis said police departments all over Canada wrestle with the issue of police chases because of the potential risks to bystanders as well as officers.
Lewis said police try to limit the number of cars involved in a chase to minimize the risk to all involved. Speed, traffic conditions, and other factors are taken into account.
The McMillan family also believes the shooting was racially motivated. McMillan was a status Indian, as his mother's roots are in the Poundmaker First Nation. They noted that McMillan was the second aboriginal man shot by police in a month outside Saskatoon. Melvin Bigsky was shot in late April after he rammed a police car with his truck and physically assaulted the officer.
"He was born an Indian - he died like an Indian," Victoria McMillan said.
"The police won't say it's racist, but deep down it is," said cousin Deanne Kasokeo.
However, Toogood said initial reports indicated McMillan was Caucasian. "Whether a white male, Native, Scotsman, East Indian, would have made no difference. The policy does not differentiate between race and nationality. It's based on the situation and the actions that person took."
McMillan was born and raised in Saskatoon, but worked for a few years laying linoleum for houses on the Poundmaker reserve near North Battleford. He then started his own business, building homes, which included his own and several others on Beerling Crescent.
Peter West, a friend and electrician who was contracted by McMillan's home-building business, said McMillan was "obviously at the breaking point."
McMillan Homes went bankrupt earlier this year. McMillan "worked damn hard" but tried to expand too fast, West said.
West said he "can't help but think (police) over-reacted, but who knows in the heat of the moment."
Keldon McMillan became the eighth person killed by police in Saskatchewan during the last decade, and the first involving Saskatoon city officers since 1982.
McMillan died in a shootout with police along Highway 41 Sunday, the same strip of asphalt along which Melvin Bigsky was killed by an RCMP member just 23 days earlier.
Bigsky had assaulted the officer and allegedly rammed his truck into the police cruiser just prior to being shot.
The two incidents coming back-to-back have raised the issue of police using deadly force. Until this spring police had been able to avoid such drastic action for almost 20 years.
"I don't know what to attribute that to, I think it's just the fortunate luck of the draw," said Saskatoon city police Const. Grant Obst, former president of the Canadian Police Association.
"There have been situations where we have been very close though. Everybody's kind of in shock.
"These are the kinds of things you hope will never happen but you are aware they might happen. Even if it's 100 per cent justified, as they think it is in this case, it's just very hard."
In 1982 a sniper with the city's emergency response team killed Richard Landrie in the course of ending a hostage-taking incident.
During the last 10 years, Saskatchewan RCMP have been involved in two incidents involving the use of deadly force.
Donald Mercredi, a 23-year-old resident of the Fond-du-Lac Indian reserve in northern Saskatchewan was killed after apparently lunging at officers with a pair of knives on May 11, 1994. Brent Nowlin, 25, was shot by Mounties in North Battleford in June 1993 after shooting at them with a rifle from his car.
There have been three fatal shootings by Regina police in the last decade, including that of Josh Engdahl, 16, on Sept. 10, 1998; Denice Cyr, 20, on Jan. 28, 1996, and Alexander McDonald, 26, on Jan. 21, 1993.
Engdahl and McDonald, both armed with knives, were shot after confronting police, while Denice Cyr was killed after shooting a .22 rifle at police.
Prince Albert police were last involved in a fatal shooting in March 1995 when Floyd Piche was killed while brandishing a knife at a nearby officer.