In a community where law and order generally prevails, February was an unusual month. There were not one, not two, but three shootings involving Vancouver police. A fourth occurred on Thursday, as I was writing this column.
Of course, we reported each of the stories online and in print.
In recent years, officer-involved shootings have evoked a lot of public reaction and interest around the nation, so we knew these would be big stories for our readers. Our goal was to have our coverage be as accurate and complete as possible, given our deadlines and public demand for immediate information.
The biggest issue turned out to be what photographs to publish after the third shooting, which involved a mentally ill and homeless man who reportedly was waving one or more firearms at people at the corner of West 12th and Jefferson streets. While the incident is still under investigation, it appears Michael Pierce refused police commands to drop two realistic-looking replica handguns, and was shot in the chest by Officers Christopher Douville and Andrew Dunbar. Pierce died on the sidewalk.
We heard the incident on our police radio as it unfolded, and Photo Editor Amanda Cowan quickly went to photograph the scene, which is only about five or six blocks from The Columbian. A veteran photojournalist, she knew not to get too close to the scene, but with a telephoto lens she was able to make some dramatic photos.
Some of her photos were possibly too dramatic. In one frame, she captured a Vancouver Fire Department paramedic using what appears to be a heart monitor to check Pierce’s body for signs of life. Another frame showed Pierce lying on the ground, dead, with his face and bare torso visible. A third photo, taken a few minutes later, showed his body covered with a yellow tarp, with officers in the background. Amanda also brought back a selection of other photos that showed crime scene tape, police cars and bystanders, but not the actual scene nor the body.