Toronto police officer draws praise for refusing to shoot van suspect

TORONTO, April 23 (Reuters) - A Toronto police officer who refused to shoot the man suspected of plowing a van into crowds of pedestrians on Monday, killing 10 people, was praised for restraint in the face of a suspect who claimed to have a gun.

Video footage showed the police officer staring down the suspect at gunpoint in the middle of a street, while the man pointed what appeared to be a gun and shouted "Kill me." The video, obtained by CBC News, showed the suspect repeatedly pulling an object from his side and aiming at police.

The arrest was praised as a welcome example of police restraint in the midst of chaos, coming just minutes after a white rental van plowed into a lunchtime crowd in north Toronto, killing 10 people and injuring 15 in one of the most violent incidents in Canadian history.

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Several pedestrians killed after van strikes people in Toronto
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Several pedestrians killed after van strikes people in Toronto
TORONTO, ON - APRIL 23: Police inspect a van suspected of being involved in a collision injuring at least eight people at Yonge St. and Finch Ave. on April 23, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. A suspect is in custody after a white van collided with multiple pedestrians. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
Toronto police responds to an incident where a van struck multiple people at a major intersection in Toronto's northern suburbs in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 23, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Donovan
People react to an incident where a van struck multiple people at a major intersection in Toronto's northern suburbs, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 23, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Toronto police investigates an incident where a van struck multiple people at a major intersection in Toronto's northern suburbs in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 23, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Donovan
People react to an incident where a van struck multiple people at a major intersection in Toronto's northern suburbs, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 23, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
An unidentified body is seen near the crime scene after a truck hit several pedestrians in Toronto, Ontario, on on April 23, 2018. - A man drove a white rental van into a crowd of pedestrians in the center of Canada's biggest city Toronto on April 23, 2018, injuring as many as 10 people, police said.Canadian media reported at least four fatalities, but that was not yet confirmed by police. The vehicle fled the scene, but the driver was later arrested.'Update: unknown of extent of injuries, possible 8 - 10 pedestrians struck,' Toronto police wrote on Twitter. (Photo by Lars Hagberg / AFP) (Photo credit should read LARS HAGBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
Firemen cover a victim of an incident where a van struck multiple people at a major intersection in Toronto's northern suburbs, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 23, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
A pedestrian, who police say was a witness to a van striking multiple people at a major intersection in Toronto's northern suburbs, reacts in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 23, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
A pedestrian officer responds to an incident where a van struck multiple people at a major intersection in Toronto's northern suburbs in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 23, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
TORONTO, ON - APRIL 23: Police inspect a van suspected of being involved in a collision injuring at least eight people at Yonge St. and Finch Ave. on April 23, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. A suspect is in custody after a white van collided with multiple pedestrians. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
A pedestrian walks along a police crime scene tape near where a van struck multiple people at a major intersection in Toronto's northern suburbs in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 23, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Toronto police investigates an incident where a van struck multiple people at a major intersection in Toronto's northern suburbs in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 23, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Donovan
TORONTO, ON - APRIL 23: Police inspect a van suspected of being involved in a collision injuring at least eight people at Yonge St. and Finch Ave. on April 23, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. A suspect is in custody after a white van collided with multiple pedestrians. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
A police officer responds to an incident where a van struck multiple people at a major intersection in Toronto's northern suburbs in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 23, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
TORONTO, ON- APRIL 23 - Police have Yonge Street blocked off at Parkview Avenue where on of the victims lies on the East side of the street as the Police investigate a van that ran down pedestrians along Yonge Street between Sheppard and Finch streets in Toronto at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. April 23, 2018. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - APRIL 23: A police officer enters his police car at the cordoned off Yonge St. at Finch Ave. after a van plowed into pedestrians on April 23, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. A suspect is in custody after a white van collided with multiple pedestrians. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - APRIL 23: Law enforcement and first responders on scene at Yonge St. at Finch Ave. after a van plows into pedestrians April 23, 2018 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. A suspect is in custody after a white van collided with multiple pedestrians. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
Police officers stand near the crime scene after a truck hit several pedestrians in Toronto, Ontario, on on April 23, 2018. - A man drove a white rental van into a crowd of pedestrians in the center of Canada's biggest city Toronto on April 23, 2018, injuring as many as 10 people, police said.Canadian media reported at least four fatalities, but that was not yet confirmed by police. The vehicle fled the scene, but the driver was later arrested.'Update: unknown of extent of injuries, possible 8 - 10 pedestrians struck,' Toronto police wrote on Twitter. (Photo by Lars Hagberg / AFP) (Photo credit should read LARS HAGBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON- APRIL 23 - Police have Yonge Street blocked off at Parkview Avenue where on of the victims lies on the East side of the street as the Police investigate a van that ran down pedestrians along Yonge Street between Sheppard and Finch streets in Toronto at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. April 23, 2018. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON- APRIL 23 - Police have Yonge Street blocked off at Parkview Avenue where on of the victims lies on the East side of the street as the Police investigate a van that ran down pedestrians along Yonge Street between Sheppard and Finch streets in Toronto at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. April 23, 2018. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - APRIL 23: Police inspect a van suspected of being involved in a collision injuring at least eight people at Yonge St. and Finch Ave. on April 23, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. A suspect is in custody after a white van collided with multiple pedestrians. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
#UPDATE: Toronto Police confirm a van mounted the curb and hit a number of pedestrians. The driver fled the scene.… https://t.co/ithoyep0bK
There is a Ryder van up on the curb on Poyntz Ave, just south of Yonge & Sheppard. Overheard “…they shot him”. Heli… https://t.co/H7cmfh1mk2
JUST IN: A van has collided with numerous pedestrians in Toronto, Canada, according to police. The extent of the in… https://t.co/gAQ8tk4vaj
More: Toronto subway service shut down after report that a van struck a number of people at Yonge Street and Finch… https://t.co/PvcqdMcf8H
JUST IN: Toronto police say pedestrians have been struck by a van, number of injuries are unknown https://t.co/hmCuVriMwU
I’ve now walked up Yonge St from north of Sheppard to Finch. I have passed multiple dead bodies covered up, shoes a… https://t.co/0BLR83tXJK
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As the suspect shouted "Kill me," the officer replied, "No, get down." When the suspect said, "I have a gun in my pocket," the officer responded: "I don't care. Get down."

Toronto police identified the man arrested as Alek Minassian, 25, of Richmond Hill, a neighborhood close to Toronto.

"It's quite apparent that the suspect was trying to be executed. He was really looking for 'suicide-by-cop,'" Gary Clement, a retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police superintendent with 34 years experience of policing, told Reuters.

The Toronto Police Service declined to name the officer involved in the stand-off, but Clement said he appeared to be a "very seasoned and mature officer."

"I would say this individual met the right police officer," Clement said. "Nobody knows how they're going to react. In this situation a lot of it comes down to muscle memory. This guy reacted in a very mature manner."

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said the officer's behavior reflected the "high caliber of training that takes place.

"They are taught to use as little force as possible in any given situation," he said.

It helped that the officer had a clear view of the suspect, who was out of the van and pacing between the sidewalk and the arresting officer, Clement said.

The non-violent end to the standoff won plaudits on social media.

"Wow, at how these Canadian cops brought in this suspected killer," said Twitter user Stuart A. Thompson in a posting.

Police in the United States have been criticized for being too quick to pull the trigger after a series of high-profile police shootings and deaths of suspects during arrest.

Witnesses in Toronto expressed horror at the murders.

Young Lee, a 56-year-old attorney, looked out his third-floor office window on Yonge Street and was shocked to see medics attempting to resuscitate two of the victims.

"I've never seen violence like this here in Toronto," Lee said. "I felt a mix of rage and a lot of sympathy for the victims." (Reporting by Matt Scuffham Editing by Leslie Adler)

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