Const. Grzegorz (Greg) Pierzchala did not fire his weapon when he arrived at the scene where he’d be fatally shot on Tuesday and was basically ambushed by two suspects, the Ontario Provincial Police said Wednesday.
Pierzchala — who decided he wanted to be a police officer when he was five years old — achieved his dream on Tuesday at age 28, when he learned he had passed his probation as an Ontario Provincial Police constable.
Hours later, he was shot dead while responding to a report of a vehicle in a ditch near Hagersville.
Randall McKenzie, 25, and Brandi Crystal Lyn Stewart-Sperry, 30, have been charged with first-degree murder in connection with his death. They each made a brief court appearance in Cayuga on Wednesday.
During a Wednesday night press conference, OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique offered a glimpse into what occurred. When Pierzchala was killed, Carrique said, the new constable hadn’t discharged his weapon and was “essentially ambushed” in a situation where he “stood absolutely no chance of being able to defend himself.”
The motive, circumstances and timing of the slaying are all under investigation, Carrique added.
The commissioner added that he was “outraged” by the fact that McKenzie — who had been charged with several violent offences in late 2021 — had been out on bail.
Pierzchala had been responding to a call about a vehicle in a ditch on Indian Line just after 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, according to the OPP.
After the shooting, two people stole a vehicle and fled the scene, Carrique said, adding that they were “tracked and apprehended” by officers on Tuesday, including a canine unit, after fleeing on foot for a time. Police had warned local residents to shelter in place until the arrests were made.
Pierzchala soon died in hospital. What exactly prompted the shooting — and how a seemingly routine call instead turned deadly, on the border of Haldimand County and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation — remains unclear.
Court documents obtained by The Hamilton Spectator show McKenzie has been on bail since late June — about six months after he was charged with a litany of offences related to an alleged domestic-violence incident in Hamilton. None of the charges have been proven.
Hamilton police arrested McKenzie in early December 2021, charging him with a total of 12 assault- and firearm-related offences, according to the documents.
Three of the charges were for alleged assaults against three people — one of whom was a peace officer, court records show. Four other charges were related to the illegal possession of an unlicensed handgun.
The documents further show McKenzie was already prohibited from possessing a firearm by way of two previous court orders: one on Jan. 10, 2018, another on March 23, 2016. The Spectator has not yet seen details of those judge-approved orders.
In a written statement to The Canadian Press, McKenzie’s family expressed their condolences to Pierzchala’s family.
“We wish them healing and peace,” the statement said.
The family said McKenzie had some challenges growing up, got into the wrong crowd in high school and began abusing drugs at a young age. “Everyone is having a difficult time processing this and is extremely hurt.”
In court Wednesday, McKenzie and Stewart-Sperry were told they would remain in custody until a bail hearing on Jan. 17.
A 2021 document from the Parole Board of Canada says McKenzie is from the Onondaga First Nations of the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, The Canadian Press reported. He was serving an almost three-year sentence for robbery, assault with a weapon, possession of a weapon and other charges when his release was revoked that year because he was not complying with his terms.
That document said that during the robbery, which happened in 2017, McKenzie pointed a handgun at a restaurant owner, ordering him to hand over his car keys and money, said the news agency.
“You pled guilty, and described that you needed money for drugs,” the document says.
The document says McKenzie has experienced the negative impacts of colonialism.
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“Your biological parents struggled with alcohol and were neglectful,” it reads.
“You believe your adopted grandfather may have attended residential school … You have suffered abuse, experienced addiction and have been disconnected from your family and cultural community. These losses and negative experiences are likely linked to your offending.”
“Intergenerational trauma is a real thing,” McKenzie’s family said in their statement.
The fourth police officer to be shot dead in Ontario since September, Pierzchala got a reference for his application to the OPP from Shawn Geris, a Toronto officer who coached him in wrestling at York University a decade ago.
“The OPP were lucky to have him,” Geris told the Star. “He was the perfect candidate.”
Geris said that Pierzchala knew there were dangers in policing, but he still considered it his dream job.
“He wanted to help people,” Geris said. “He wanted to be there for people … He looked for the good in everybody.”
Geris said Pierzchala, who grew up in Barrie, never showed any signs of temper on or off the wrestling mats.
“I ran some tough practices,” Geris said. “He was tough. He wasn’t the biggest kid. I put him with some tough, tough kids. People who were bigger. He would handle them. He wouldn’t give up.”
Geris said Pierzchala reminded him of his father, Harry Geris, an Olympian wrestler who represented Canada internationally.
“He (Pierzchala) was always looking to work on his weaknesses,” Geris said. “He was a gentle man by nature, very much like my father. Wrestling is such a controlled sport.
“He wouldn’t hurt a flea if he didn’t have to.”
Flags at Barrie city hall were lowered to half staff on Wednesday.
“Const. Pierzchala grew up in Barrie, and our entire city is mourning alongside his colleagues, family and friends,” Barrie Mayor Alex Nuttall said.
Pierzchala had been a member of the Canadian Armed Forces and a special constable at Queen’s Park, which he felt would be a stepping stone to landing a job as a police officer. He served in the Haldimand County detachment with the OPP.
“The goal was policing,” Geris said. “He never gave up.”
Geris said he was continually impressed by the character Pierzchala showed in wrestling.
“He was the furthest thing from a bully,” Geris said. “His teammates loved him.
“He was a leader in the room. A quiet leader.”
Once, Geris recalled, Pierzchala suffered a dislocated elbow in a wrestling meet and was told he would be out for the season. He reappeared on the mats far sooner than the doctor predicted, with his elbow heavily taped.
“You couldn’t keep him away,” Geris said, adding that Pierzchala also loved coaching kids at a club Geris runs. “The kids’ faces just lit up when he was in the room … so damned nice. Even when he wrestled. He’d only get mad at himself.”
With files from Alyshah Hasham, Peter Edwards, The Canadian Press and the Barrie Advance
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