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SIU Director’s Report - Case # 19-PCD-021

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 57-year-old man.

The Investigation

Notification of the SIU

On January 30, 2019, at 5:12 a.m., the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) notified the SIU of the death of the Complainant earlier that morning following a police containment of his home in response to a weapons call.

The OPP reported that on January 29, 2019, at 10:00 p.m., OPP police officers responded to a domestic call at the residence shared by the Complainant and his spouse, the Civilian Witness (CW), in Clarksburg. The CW fled the home and was located by a patrol officer who took her to the nearby detachment. The Complainant was armed with a handgun and had threatened suicide in front of the CW. Police tactical teams set up a perimeter around the property and eventually entered the garage where they found the Complainant dead from an apparent gunshot wound to the head.

The Team

Number of SIU Investigators assigned: 5
Number of SIU Forensic Investigators assigned: 3

Complainant:

57-year-old male, deceased


Civilian Witnesses

CW Interviewed 

Witness Officers

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


Police Employee Witness

PEW Interview deemed not necessary on a review of other evidence


Subject Officers

SO Interviewed, and notes received and reviewed


Incident Narrative

While the precise time of the Complainant’s death remains unknown, the circumstances bearing on the officers’ potential criminal liability are largely apparent based on the information collected by the SIU. That information included statements provided by the Complainant’s common law spouse, the CW, and the SO. It further included a review of police communications recordings, evidence derived from the autopsy performed on the deceased, and forensic examination of the scene. Shortly before 10:00 p.m. of January 29, 2019, the CW placed a 911 call to police from a trailer (mobile home) on her property reporting that her spouse had just attempted to shoot himself in the head in her presence following a domestic dispute. She explained that the Complainant made his way back into their home when the gun failed to discharge. She further noted that the Complainant had been drinking, was angry and had access to firearms.

Police officers began arriving at the scene outside the house at about 10:30 p.m., beginning with local police officers and followed by the more specialized Emergency Response Team (ERT) and Tactical Response Unit (TRU) members. The SO was first made aware of the situation at approximately 10:30 p.m. He quickly arranged for the dispatch of a crisis negotiation team, a canine unit and the ERT and TRU, and then made his way to the local OPP detachment, located a couple of kilometres from the scene, arriving at 12:30 a.m. Over the course of the ensuing four hours, efforts were made to contact the Complainant from outside the home, but to no avail as the Complainant had turned off his cell phone earlier in the evening. Loud hailers, police lights, and a distraction device were deployed in the vicinity of the residence in an effort to provoke a response from the Complainant, but each of these efforts was met with silence from within the home. At about 4:30 a.m., the decision was taken to have the TRU gain entry into the home’s garage. There, slumped down near a gun safe in a back room of the garage, they found the Complainant’s lifeless body. The Complainant had shot himself.

A large calibre silver revolver with a black handle was found on the ground next to the Complainant. It was later recovered in that location by SIU Forensic Investigators, who also collected a projectile from the ceiling above the Complainant. Subsequent DNA testing of blood located on the projectile confirmed that it came from the Complainant.

Evidence

The Scene

The incident occurred at a private residence in Clarksburg. The property, on a rural road and quite isolated, consisted of a main residence with an attached garage accessible to the home. A trailer was also situated on the grounds.

An SIU Forensic Investigator examined, photographed and video recorded the scene. The Complainant was in the gun room located at the back sitting on the ground with his back against the north wall and leaning slightly forward on his right side. A cardboard box within a blue recycling bin prevented him from falling over. A wound was visible on the left side of head. He was fully clothed in hunting-type clothing; namely, tan-beige flannel/fleece long sleeved shirt, tan-beige camouflage pants, and grey socks. A large silver-coloured revolver with black coloured grips was resting on the ground next to the Complainant. Blood spatter was visible on the north wall approximately thirty (30) inches above the ground. An elongated hole was visible on the sloped ceiling. The hole was in the wooden roofing panel and appeared fresh.

Physical Evidence

The firearm next to the Complainant was collected by an SIU Forensic Investigator and determined to have the following attributes:

  • Smith and Wesson 357 Magnum revolver;
  • Silver/grey in colour with black hand grips;
  • Model 686-4;
  • Six (6) shot cylinder;
  • One (1) spent cartridge case (.357 calibre) occupied one cylinder slot;
  • 357 Magnum, two stars and a curve line were stamped on the cartridge head; and
  • Blood was visible on various parts of the firearm.

SIU Forensic Investigators cut a section around the hole in the ceiling and located a large lead projectile (bullet) in the insulation, which was collected. The projectile was intact but deformed.

Forensic Evidence

Subsequent DNA analysis conducted by the Centre of Forensic Sciences determined that the blood found on the bullet recovered from the ceiling belonged to the Complainant.


Post-Mortem Examination


The autopsy of the Complainant was performed on February 1, 2019, in Toronto at 9:00 a.m. The pathologist’s preliminary cause of death was a single gunshot wound to the head with near contact of the barrel. The round travelled in just above the right ear and exited through the left side at the back of the skull. No projectile was found in either the brain or the skull.

Communications Recordings

The CW called the 911 operator at 9:53 p.m., from the trailer adjacent to the main house, while in a confrontation with her husband who can be heard in the background. When the Complainant realized that the CW was calling for help, he ran into the house. The CW stayed on the line for the next 13 minutes informing the OPP communications operator of the circumstances of the emergency. She explained the domestic situation, supplied background information on the Complainant and cautioned that he owned several firearms.

The CW also told the dispatcher, while waiting for the first of many police officers to arrive, that the Complainant had written a suicide note and had threatened to kill himself by placing a handgun to his head in her presence.

Materials obtained from Police Service

Upon request the SIU obtained and reviewed the following materials and documents from the OPP:

  • Background Event Chronology (CAD);
  • CAD Report;
  • Communications Recordings;
  • Disclosure Tracking Log;
  • General Occurrence Report;
  • Interview Report of the CW;
  • Notes of the SO, WO #1, WO #2, and WO #3
  • OPP photos of deceased at scene;
  • OPP photographs of the property;
  • OPP photographs of the chalk board in the OPP Command vehicle indicating personnel and floor plan of the residence;
  • TRU Operational Report on Barricaded Person; and
  • Witness List.

Relevant Legislation

Section 529.3, Criminal Code - Authority to enter dwelling without warrant

529.3 (1) Without limiting or restricting any power a peace officer may have to enter a dwelling-house under this or any other Act or law, the peace officer may enter the dwelling-house for the purpose of arresting or apprehending a person, without a warrant referred to in section 529 or 529.1 authorizing the entry, if the peace officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the person is present in the dwelling-house, and the conditions for obtaining a warrant under section 529.1 exist but by reason of exigent circumstances it would be impracticable to obtain a warrant. 

Analysis and Director's Decision

The Complainant died of a single gunshot wound to the head, sometime between 10:00 p.m. of January 29, 2019 and the early morning hours of January 30, 2019, in the garage of his residence in Clarksburg. The evidence indicates that the wound was self-inflicted. Some time before or after the wound was inflicted, OPP officers arrived at the scene following information that the Complainant was armed with a firearm and intending to possibly harm himself. The SO in the SIU’s investigation was the officer with overall command of the police presence. For the reasons that follow, there are no reasonable grounds in my view to believe that he or any of the other involved officers caused or contributed to the Complainant’s death in any fashion that would warrant criminal charges.


There is little if anything to criticize in the conduct of the officers who responded to the CW’s call for assistance. On the contrary, the record indicates that they acquitted themselves professionally throughout, at all times aware of their foremost duty to ensure the public’s safety and resolve the situation, if they could, peacefully. They were clearly engaged in the exercise of their lawful duty when they arrived at the home and set up a perimeter around it. Faced with information about a distressed man with a firearm intent on possibly harming himself, they had good cause to contain the scene and evacuate neighbours, as they did. Thereafter, the officers set up watch around the residence looking to see if they could detect any activity within the home. When after several hours it became clear that the Complainant simply would not, or could not, respond, they decided to make entry into the premises. I can see no fault with their timing in this regard. The officers had every reason to believe that the Complainant was armed with a firearm and posed a serious danger to himself and others. They were entitled to proceed with extreme caution and only up the ante with an entry into the premises after other efforts to bring the standoff to a safe resolution had failed. The TRU team led the effort, searching the trailer on the property first before accessing the garage and finding the Complainant. I pause to note that the officers’ entry into a private premise to apprehend the Complainant was entirely lawful given what they knew of his recent behaviour toward the CW and the exigencies of the situation (see section 529.3 of the Criminal Code). In the circumstances, whether or not the officers were present at the house when the Complainant took his own life, [1] I am satisfied that the SO and the officers who took part in the operations that night acted at all times within the limits of care prescribed by the criminal law. Accordingly, this file is closed.


Date: April 3, 2019

Original signed by

Joseph Martino
Interim Director
Special Investigations Unit

Footnotes

  • 1) It should be noted there is a distinct possibility that the Complainant shot himself sometime after the CW left the home following her 911 call shortly after 10:00 p.m. and before the first officers arrived on scene at about 10:30 p.m. To reiterate, there were no reports of any activity or noise emanating from within the home or garage after officers were set up around the residence. [Back to text]