SIU Concludes Injury Investigation in Mississauga
Case Number: 13-OCI-214
Mississauga (9 October, 2013) --- The Director of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), Ian Scott, has concluded that there are no reasonable grounds to charge a Peel Regional Police officer with a criminal offence in relation to the injuries sustained by 80-year-old Iole Pasquale in August of 2013.
The SIU assigned two investigators and one forensic investigator to probe the circumstances of this incident. As part of the investigation, two witness officers and three civilian witnesses were interviewed. The subject officer provided his duty notes and an interview to the SIU.
The SIU investigation found that the following events took place on Wednesday, August 28, 2013:
• At approximately 3:30 a.m., two civilians driving on Thomas Street saw a woman (now known to be Ms. Pasquale) walking along in a seemingly aimless fashion with a large knife in one of her hands. The knife had a black handle and an eight inch serrated blade. The civilians attempted to communicate with her but were unsuccessful. As a result, one of them phoned 9-1-1 and relayed their observations to the police.
• Three uniformed police officers were dispatched to the area. The first officer to arrive attempted to speak to Ms. Pasquale as he drove beside her in his police cruiser. He asked her if she was okay and whether she wanted a ride. She continued to walk and did not respond to his questions. He told her to put the knife down but she did not comply. She simply kept walking and occasionally made incoherent noises.
• A second officer arrived and observed the first officer attempting to communicate with Ms. Pasquale. He noted that Ms. Pasquale was walking slowly with a large knife in her hand and appeared to be uncommunicative. She was not threatening anyone with the knife and did not appear suicidal. He too yelled at her to drop the knife.
• By the time the subject officer arrived, Ms. Pasquale was walking eastbound on the north side of Thomas Street near Vista Drive. As a supervisor on that shift, he was equipped with a conducted energy weapon (CEW). The subject officer also observed Ms. Pasquale holding the knife in her left hand with the blade pointing down. He parked his cruiser east of her, exited his cruiser and immediately demanded that she drop the knife. Ms. Pasquale was unresponsive and continued to walk in an easterly direction passing in front of the subject officer’s cruiser. He continued to shout at her to drop the knife. He decided to apprehend her under the provisions of the Mental Health Act because he thought she was suffering from a mental disorder and could cause serious bodily harm to herself or others.
• The witness officer made eye contact with Ms. Pasquale and had her extend her arms by making the gesture with his own arms. The plan was for the witness officer to have Ms. Pasquale extend her arms from her sides again at which point the subject officer would deploy his CEW. They thought this approach would reduce the risk of Ms. Pasquale falling on the knife and hurting herself. The subject officer positioned himself ahead of Ms. Pasquale and repeatedly told her to drop the knife. She continued to walk forward without complying with the subject officer’s commands. When the witness officer successfully managed to get Ms. Pasquale to again extend her arms away from her body, the subject officer deployed his CEW causing Ms. Pasquale to fall to the sidewalk. The two witness officers attempted to disarm Ms. Pasquale. When she would not release the knife, the subject officer deployed the CEW again. This time, the two witness officers managed to take the knife from her.
• Ms. Pasquale was transported to Credit Valley Hospital for a mental health assessment. While in the hospital’s care, she was diagnosed as sustaining a fractured hip as a result of the fall.
Director Scott said, “In my view, the attending officers had the lawful authority to apprehend Ms. Pasquale under the Mental Health Act; by refusing to drop a large knife when it was being demanded of her by uniformed police officers when walking in a public area, and by not providing any reason for refusing to disarm herself, I am of the opinion that the involved officers could reasonably conclude that she suffered from a mental disorder and may cause serious bodily harm to herself or others. Once the involved officers had the authority to apprehend Ms. Pasquale, they also had the lawful authority to use reasonable force to effect that apprehension. The more difficult question was whether the subject officer’s deployment of the CEW in these circumstances was a reasonable or excessive use of force as understood by the Criminal Code. For the reasons below, I am of the view the force used was reasonable.
“The subject officer in his statement to the SIU said he considered a number of use-of-force options before deciding to use a CEW. He first considered the open hands technique – in essence, approaching her and trying to wrestle the knife out of her hand. He rejected this option. Further, he considered pepper spray and his baton but also rejected these as options. I agree with him that these use-of-force options were potentially inappropriate in this situation. Open hands technique would have exposed him to potentially serious injury; while Ms. Pasquale was an elderly woman, she was armed with a large knife, appeared to be suffering from a mental disorder and was noncompliant with the officers’ requests to disarm herself. Similarly, the use of pepper spray in this situation could have led to Ms. Pasquale injuring herself while being disoriented and in any event its use does not ensure its recipient will disarm him or herself. The use of a baton could have been effective in causing her to drop her knife by striking her hand or arm, but this action would have likely caused her a serious injury. In the subject officer’s view, this left the option of the CEW. Unfortunately, its deployment caused Ms. Pasquale to fracture her hip when she fell to the ground.”
Director Scott continued, “The only other reasonable option not explored was to continue to track her and attempt to convince her to disarm herself. On reflection, that would seem to have been a preferred option. However, I remind myself that the test to be applied is whether the force was reasonable at the time it was used, not in the cold light of analysis after the fact. From the perspective of the involved officers at the time, Ms. Pasquale was noncompliant and, except for raising her arms when imitating one of the officers, uncommunicative. Attempts to communicate with her in a gentle fashion had not been successful. The involved officers had no reason to believe that she was going to become more communicative or compliant, at least in the short run. They also had no information at that point of her identity to seek out a family member. Coupled with these issues was the fact that she appeared to be suffering from a mental disorder and could have harmed herself with the knife. The subject officer can be criticized for not waiting longer and perhaps he should have. But in my view, the fact that he used a CEW without waiting longer does not make its deployment unreasonable in a criminal law context, particularly in light of the officers’ plan to have her extend her arms so that she would not hurt herself with the knife when she fell. It is unfortunate that Ms. Pasquale fractured her hip in that fall. However, from the perspective of the subject officer at the time of deployment of the CEW, that injury was not a likely consequence of this use of force.”
Director Scott concluded, “In sum, from the criminal law perspective, in circumstances where a subject officer is permitted to use force during a lawful apprehension under the Mental Health Act, I am of the view that here its use was not excessive. This decision does not mean that that it was the preferred option, particularly in light of Peel Police’s internal directive that CEWs are to be avoided on elderly persons where possible; it simply means that the decision to use a CEW in these circumstances should not engage the criminal law. There may be training or policy issues involved in this incident which the chief can explore in her internal investigation.”
The SIU is an arm’s length agency that investigates reports involving police where there has been death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault. Under the Police Services Act, the Director of the SIU must
- consider whether an officer has committed a criminal offence in connection with the incident under investigation
- depending on the evidence, lay a criminal charge against the officer if appropriate or close the file without any charges being laid
- report the results of any investigations to the Attorney General.
SIU Communications/Service des communications, UES
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