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SIU Director’s Report - Case # 18-PCD-263

Contents:

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Mandate of the SIU

The Special Investigations Unit is a civilian law enforcement agency that investigates incidents involving police officers where there has been death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault. The Unit’s jurisdiction covers more than 50 municipal, regional and provincial police services across Ontario.

Under the Police Services Act, the Director of the SIU must determine based on the evidence gathered in an investigation whether an officer has committed a criminal offence in connection with the incident under investigation. If, after an investigation, there are reasonable grounds to believe that an offence was committed, the Director has the authority to lay a criminal charge against the officer. Alternatively, in all cases where no reasonable grounds exist, the Director does not lay criminal charges but files a report with the Attorney General communicating the results of an investigation.

Information restrictions

Freedom of Information and Protection of Personal Privacy Act (“FIPPA”)

Pursuant to section 14 of FIPPA (i.e., law enforcement), certain information may not be included in this report. This information may include, but is not limited to, the following:
  • Confidential investigative techniques and procedures used by law enforcement agencies; and
  • Information whose release could reasonably be expected to interfere with a law enforcement matter or an investigation undertaken with a view to a law enforcement proceeding. 
Pursuant to section 21 of FIPPA (i.e., personal privacy), protected personal information is not included in this document. This information may include, but is not limited to, the following:
  • Subject Officer name(s);
  • Witness Officer name(s);
  • Civilian Witness name(s);
  • Location information; 
  • Witness statements and evidence gathered in the course of the investigation provided to the SIU in confidence; and 
  • Other identifiers which are likely to reveal personal information about individuals involved in the investigation.


Personal Health Information Protection Act, 2004 (“PHIPA”)

Pursuant to PHIPA, any information related to the personal health of identifiable individuals is not included.

Other proceedings, processes, and investigations

Information may have also been excluded from this report because its release could undermine the integrity of other proceedings involving the same incident, such as criminal proceedings, coroner’s inquests, other public proceedings and/or other law enforcement investigations.

Mandate engaged

The Unit’s investigative jurisdiction is limited to those incidents where there is a serious injury (including sexual assault allegations) or death in cases involving the police.

“Serious injuries” shall include those that are likely to interfere with the health or comfort of the victim and are more than merely transient or trifling in nature and will include serious injury resulting from sexual assault. “Serious Injury” shall initially be presumed when the victim is admitted to hospital, suffers a fracture to a limb, rib or vertebrae or to the skull, suffers burns to a major portion of the body or loses any portion of the body or suffers loss of vision or hearing, or alleges sexual assault. Where a prolonged delay is likely before the seriousness of the injury can be assessed, the Unit should be notified so that it can monitor the situation and decide on the extent of its involvement.

This report relates to the SIU’s investigation into the death of a 35-year-old male.

The Investigation

Notification of the SIU

On September 2, 2018, at 4:57 p.m., the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) notified the SIU of the suicide of a 35-year-old male. According to the OPP, at 12:16 p.m. that day OPP officers responded to a suicide call in Dalrymple. When OPP officers arrived, the Complainant ran away and ran into a bushy area.

The Complainant was later located by an OPP canine and was found hanging from a tree. He was taken down and transported by paramedics to Soldiers Memorial Hospital in Orillia. At 4:25 p.m., the OPP was notified that the Complainant had died.

The Team

Number of SIU Investigators assigned: 3
Number of SIU Forensic Investigators assigned: 1

Complainant:

35-year-old male, deceased

Civilian Witnesses

CW #1 Not interviewed (Next-of-kin)

The OPP also obtained a statement from the Complainant’s ex-girlfriend. A copy of that statement was provided to the SIU.

Witness Officers

WO #1 Interviewed
WO #2 Not interviewed, but notes received and reviewed
WO #3 Not interviewed, but notes received and reviewed
WO #4 Not interviewed, but notes received and reviewed
WO #5 Interviewed
WO #6 Interviewed

The SIU reviewed the duty notes of all witness officers. An additional police officer, a police dog handler, was set aside as a potential subject officer, but ultimately no designation was issued for him.


Incident Narrative

On September 2, 2018, the OPP responded to a 911 call regarding a suicide attempt in Dalrymple. The Complainant had tried to hang himself in front of his ex-girlfriend but the rope broke and he ran into the bush with more rope. The OPP responded and attempted to locate the Complainant by “pinging” his telephone and using a police dog. The police dog tracked the Complainant for almost an hour before he was discovered hanging in a tree. The OPP officers cut him down and attempted to revive him by performing CPR until paramedics arrived; however, they were unsuccessful.

Cause of Death

On September 4, 2018, a post-mortem examination was performed on the body of the Complainant at the Ontario Forensic Pathology Unit in Toronto. On January 8, 2019, the SIU received the post-mortem report which concluded that the cause of death was hanging.

Evidence

The Scene

The Complainant’s ex-girlfriend’s home was situated on a relatively large rural property that is surrounded by forest and brush. To the northwest of the property, along the shore of Lake Dalrymple, was the location where the Complainant was found.

At the scene where the Complainant was cut down, there is a very dense forest area at the edges of cleared agricultural land. A gravel access road into the agricultural land came to an end approximately 40 metres from the area where the Complainant was found.

The Complainant had been found hanging in a tree, with a blue and white rope around his neck. There was a small tree that had been placed into the middle of a Y-shaped section of another tree. It appeared as though the Complainant had used the small tree to access the higher area of the second tree. The SIU found a section of the blue and white rope tied around the upper trunk of the second tree. The ligature tied around the Complainant’s neck had been cut away by the OPP.

Approximately 10 metres away, an aluminum row boat had been pulled onto the shore at the edge of Lake Dalrymple. At the boat the OPP had located a sweater and a small ring box containing an engagement style ring.

The Complainant’s cellular telephone had been set aside at the side of the gravel access road where paramedics had worked on the Complainant.

Communications Recordings

At 12:15 p.m. on September 2, 2018, a man called 911 to report that his neighbour was screaming that her boyfriend had tried to kill himself, but the rope broke and the man had taken off into the bush with more rope. The 911 caller could see that the ligature that broke was an extension cord.

The 911 caller reported that the Complainant was hanging for a couple of seconds but then the rope broke. The Complainant took off to the back of the property. The 911 caller reported that the Complainant did not have any weapons but he was carrying more rope. The caller had tried to drive his all-terrain vehicle into the fields to look for the Complainant but the brush was too thick.

The 911 caller told the call-taker that the Complainant’s ex-girlfriend was not aware of any previous suicidal ideation on the part of the Complainant, but he had a family member with a terminal illness. The Complainant kept telling his ex-girlfriend that he wanted her to watch him hang himself. The 911 caller explained that the Complainant’s ex-girlfriend had run into the house to get the telephone and when she came back outside the Complainant kicked a stool out from under himself.

At 12:52 p.m., the OPP had the Complainant’s cellular telephone provider “ping” his phone and the location coordinates were reported to the involved police officers. [1]

At 1:25 p.m., the police dog handler started his canine track, accompanied by WO #4 and WO #5.

A second “ping” at 1:30 p.m. was not successful because the Complainant’s telephone was not connected to the network at that moment.

A third “ping” at 1:48 p.m. was successful [the location indicated the Complainant was very close to the earlier location, near the edge of Lake Dalrymple].

At 1:49 p.m., a police officer reported that the Complainant’s ex-girlfriend had received a text message at 1:44 p.m. stating, “Just wanted to say goodbye.”

WO #6 was able to get close to the location indicated by the telephone “ping” from 1:48 p.m. At 2:10 p.m., he asked if he could exit his vehicle to search the area, but was denied by the police dog handler [to avoid scene contamination]. At 2:14 p.m., the communications centre reported that the Complainant had sent a text message to his ex-girlfriend’s mother at 2:09 p.m.

At 2:25 p.m., the OPP officers requested paramedics, who had been standing by, to attend as the man had been located and cut down from a tree. An automated external defibrillator (AED) was attached to the Complainant three times prior to the paramedics taking over treatment, and the AED indicated no shock was advised.

Materials obtained from Police Service

Upon request the SIU obtained and reviewed the following materials and documents from the OPP:
  • A download of the AED;
  • Event Details Report;
  • A copy of the radio communications;
  • GPS tracking data for the police dog handler;
  • The duty notes of all OPP officers designated as witness officers;
  • Occurrence (Person) Report – the Complainant; and
  • An OPP plot of the GPS data related to this incident.

Relevant Legislation

Section 219 and 220, Criminal Code -- Criminal negligence causing death

219 (1) Every one is criminally negligent who
(a) in doing anything, or
(b) in omitting to do anything that it is his duty to do,
shows wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons.

(2) For the purposes of this section, duty means a duty imposed by law.

220 Every person who by criminal negligence causes death to another person is guilty of an indictable offence and liable
(a) where a firearm is used in the commission of the offence, to imprisonment for life and to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of four years; and
(b) in any other case, to imprisonment for life.

Analysis and Director's Decision

On September 2, 2018, the OPP responded to a 911 call reporting that the Complainant had tried to hang himself. The OPP used a police dog to track him into an area with dense brush near Lake Dalrymple where he was found hanging from a tree. The police officers cut him down and tried to revive him, but the Complainant was later pronounced dead with hanging determined to be his immediate cause of death.

The SIU’s investigation into the incident consisted of interviews with three witness officers and a review of OPP radio communications. The police dog handler was initially considered for designation as a subject officer but no designation was ultimately made. The OPP interviewed the Complainant’s ex-girlfriend and provided the SIU with her statement. The SIU also reviewed text messages the Complainant’s ex-girlfriend received from the Complainant. After considering this evidence, it is clear that the Complainant took his own life and that no police officer committed a criminal offence in connection with the Complainant’s death.

At 12:15 p.m., the Complainant’s ex-girlfriend’s neighbour called 911 to report that the Complainant had attempted suicide and taken off into the bush. WO #1 was working at the OPP Kawartha Lakes Detachment and immediately began to request resources to begin a search, including a police dog handler and the Emergency Response Team. WO #1 arrived on scene at 12:39 p.m. and spoke with the Complainant’s ex-girlfriend. At 12:47 p.m., WO #1 texted the Complainant, “Its [WO#1] with OPP. Please respond. I just want to know you are ok.”

The OPP attempted to locate the Complainant by “pinging” his cell phone and using a police dog to track his scent. WO #1 requested the ping to determine the best direction to start the track. Initially, two ping tests were done, but the coordinates were misinterpreted. [2]

The dog handler arrived at 1:05 p.m. and WO #1 briefed WO #4 and WO #5 on how to best support the dog handler. At 1:29 p.m., the dog handler, WO #4 and WO #5 started tracking the Complainant with a police dog starting from his last known location behind the Complainant’s ex-girlfriend’s residence.

At approximately 1:48 p.m., WO #1 received information from a third ping test that placed the Complainant in a dense wooded area near a boat launch. WO #1 attended the area, scanned it for movement and spoke with some fishermen, who had not seen the Complainant.

At 1:49 p.m., it was broadcasted over police communications that the Complainant’s ex-girlfriend had received a text message at 1:44 p.m. stating “just wanted to say goodbye.” At this moment, WO #1 considered flooding the area with police officers, but decided not to because the brush was dense and doing so may contaminate the area with the police officers’ scent, causing problems for the police dog. He decided to continue the search with the police dog instead.

At 1:52 p.m., WO #6 arrived at the Complainant’s ex-girlfriend’s residence. He used his GPS/radio unit to enter the pings’ coordinates and compared his results with the GPS unit that WO #1 had used, finding discrepancies between them. He entered the coordinates in Google Maps and drove his police cruiser to the location, which was in the middle of a field. He asked if he could exit his vehicle but was told not to due to concerns over his scent, potentially causing issues for the police dog. He drove to the final ping location WO #1 had plotted, which was in a gravel opening near Lake Dalrymple.

At that moment, the dog handler, WO #4 and WO #5 arrived at the opening by Lake Dalyrmple. WO #6 saw them emerge from the brush and joined them. The police dog took them to the water’s edge where a grey sweater, presumably belonging to the Complainant, was found near a black box containing a gold ring. The police dog then tracked south along the water and back into an area with dense brush.

At approximately 2:25 p.m., the officers found the Complainant hanging from a rope about six feet above the ground. The Complainant appeared to have propped a smaller tree between a Y-shape in the branches of a second tree in order to elevate himself. He had wrapped his t-shirt around the rope that was around his neck. WO #5 held onto the Complainant’s legs while WO #6 cut the rope. WO #4 and WO #5 caught the Complainant, who was not displaying any signs of life, and placed him on the ground. The rope and t-shirt were removed from his neck and the officers began chest compressions. WO #6 returned to his vehicle and retrieved an AED which was used to assess the Complainant, however no shock was advised. At 2:56 p.m., paramedics arrived and relieved the police officers.

On September 4, 2018, a post-mortem examination (PM) was performed. The SIU received the PM report on January 8, 2019, which concluded that the immediate cause of death was “hanging”. The report indicated that the only sign of injuries on the Complainant were ligature marks around his neck and rib fractures caused by the administration of CPR. Further, the toxicology report which was attached to the PM found that there were no drugs or alcohol in the Complainant’s system.

On this evidence, it is clear that the police officers encountered the Complainant after he was already deceased and that his death was caused by his own actions. The only charge that could be considered in these circumstances is criminal negligence causing death contrary to s. 220 of the Criminal Code. The decision of the Court of Appeal for Ontario in R. v. Sharp, (1984), 12 CCC (3d) 428 (Ont CA), states that criminal negligence requires a “marked and substantial departure” from the standard of a reasonable person in the circumstances, such that an accused shows a “reckless disregard for the lives and safety of others.”

There is no evidence that any of the officers’ conduct was criminally negligent. The officers were acting pursuant to their common law duty to protect life when they responded to a call regarding a suicide attempt. The OPP attempted to locate the Complainant by ordering multiple ping tests on his cell phone although they had difficulties interpreting the data. While this was unfortunate, there is no evidence that the data was misinterpreted due to the negligence of the officers and, even if it were, I am unable to find a marked and substantial departure from the requisite standard of care. Three ping tests were ordered and the coordinates were interpreted using two separate GPS devices and Google Maps. WO #6 attended the area and looked for movement, but did not see the Complainant. I am similarly unable to find that WO #6’s decision to use the police dog rather than flood the area with officers was a departure of the conduct of a reasonable person. WO #6 was cognizant that the Complainant was in dire need of help and reasonably made the tough decision to continue the search with the police dog. Even with the benefit of hindsight, it is impossible to determine if this decision delayed finding the Complainant or somehow contributed to his death and I am satisfied that it was a reasonable approach given that the OPP were trying to locate a person in a densely forested area.

In closing, I am simply unable to form reasonable grounds to believe that a police officer committed a criminal offence in connection with the Complainant’s death. Instead the evidence establishes that the OPP responded swiftly and took reasonable steps to locate the Complainant and attempt to prevent his suicide. No charges will issue and the file will be closed.


Date: January 16, 2019

Original signed by

Tony Loparco
Director
Special Investigations Unit

Footnotes

  • 1) Those coordinates indicated the Complainant was near the edge of Lake Dalrymple, in the area where he was eventually located. However, there was confusion and disagreement between police officers with respect to the proper location of those coordinates. [Back to text]
  • 2) WO #1 thought the first ping indicated that the Complainant was located half a kilometre south of his last known location and the second ping indicated that the Complainant was located to the east. [Back to text]