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SIU Director’s Report - Case # 19-POD-275

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 38-year-old man (the “Complainant”).

The Investigation

Notification of the SIU

On November 19, 2019, at 3:30 p.m. (Eastern Time), the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) notified the SIU of the death of the Complainant.

The OPP advised that on November 18, 2019, at 4:48 p.m. (Eastern Time), the Complainant and his girlfriend [now determined to be the Civilian Witness (CW)] were in a residence near Lac Seul. The Complainant threatened to kill himself and then barricaded himself in a bedroom. The CW, fearing for her safety, left the residence and contacted police. Both Lac Seul Police Service and OPP responded, set up a perimeter and briefly established contact with the Complainant.

On November 19, 2019, at 9:45 a.m., the OPP Tactical Response Unit (TRU) team was flown in from southern Ontario and assumed control of the scene. Over the course of the day, the TRU team was unable to establish any type of communication with the Complainant. Using a pole camera, TRU members were able to see the Complainant lying on a bed covered with blankets and not moving. Police became concerned for the well-being of the Complainant and the decision was made to enter the home. Once TRU police officers were at the bedroom door, the Complainant was ordered to show his hands. At this time, the Complainant fired a shotgun he had hidden under the blanket into his chin, thereby ending his life.

The Team

Number of SIU Investigators assigned: 5
Number of SIU Forensic Investigators assigned: 2

Complainant:

38-year-old male, deceased


Civilian Witnesses

CW Interviewed 

Witness Officers

WO #1 Interviewed
WO #2 Interviewed
WO #3 Interviewed
WO #4 Interviewed


Subject Officers

SO Interviewed, and notes received and reviewed


Evidence

The Scene

The scene was located at an address in Kejick Bay, Lac Seul First Nation. Located in a bedroom of the residence was a blood-soaked pillow and mattress. Blood had pooled on the floor at the side of the bed between the bed and night table. A blanket lay on the floor near the side of the bed. The bedroom window was broken with glass fragments on the bed and floor. Photographs and measurements of the scene were completed.

Physical Evidence

The shotgun used by the Complainant was a “Maverick” Model 88 12-gauge pump action shotgun. The shotgun was chambered for 2 ¾ and 3-inch shells with a 12GA-28 inch modified choke.

Police Communications Recordings

The following is a summary of the OPP’s communications recordings (times denoted are Eastern Time):
  • On November 18, 2019, at 3:59:15 p.m., the OPP received a call for service with limited details in Kejick Bay, Lac Seul;
  • At 3:59:15 p.m., an ambulance was asked to stage in Kejick Bay;
  • At 3:59:15 p.m., it was reported to police that the Complainant was in the residence with the CW. The Complainant had barricaded himself in a bedroom and was in possession of a shotgun;
  • At 3:59:58 p.m., the CW had left the home;
  • At 4:32:50 p.m., the ambulance was on scene;
  • At 5:28:28 p.m., the police action plan was to ‘isolate, contain, evacuate, and safe surrender’;
  • At 6:31:06 p.m., police deployed spikebelt on lone vehicle in driveway of residence;
  • At 6:44:32 p.m., police crisis negotiator was logged on;
  • At 7:42:43 p.m., police on ground report no movement in house since 3:00 p.m.;
  • At 8:37:37 p.m., report advising all nearby houses are evacuated;
  • At 9:35:03 p.m., report advising of full Emergency Response Team containment;
  • At 10:25:19 p.m., no movement seen in house; and
  • At 10:59:41 p.m., report advising only lights on in living room and kitchen.
  • On November 19, 2019 at 12:11:46 a.m., the throw phone was deployed inside the house;
  • At 3:29:19 a.m., spotlights were put in place;
  • At 6:09:19 a.m., police deployed loud hailer;
  • At 7:35:59 a.m., the Complainant (on throw phone) said he was coming to the front door of house;
  • At 7:40:49 a.m., the Complainant seen smoking a cigarette in the kitchen;
  • At 7:45:32 a.m., the Complainant said he was getting his coat and boots;
  • At 7:53:29 a.m., police tried to convince the Complainant to come outside;
  • At 8:02:05 a.m., the Complainant seen going back inside the house;
  • At 8:02:08 a.m., the Complainant was not responding;
  • At 8:06:25 a.m., the Complainant told police no one else in the house and there were no weapons;
  • At 8:48:14 a.m., the Complainant was standing in the front door of the house;
  • At 8:55:09 a.m., the Complainant was talking to police officers at the door;
  • At 9:00:35 a.m., the Complainant indicated he wanted to hurt himself;
  • At 9:05:53 a.m., the Complainant walked back inside the house;
  • At 2:40:14 p.m., it was reported the Complainant was deceased;
  • At 2:46:02 p.m., paramedics were requested to attend the house; and
  • At 2:47:39 p.m., the house was secured and taped off.

Materials obtained from Police Service

Upon request, the SIU obtained and reviewed the following materials and documents from the OPP:
  • Computer-Assisted Dispatch-Event Details;
  • Crisis Negotiator Call Records, [1]
  • Notes of the witness officers and the SO;
  • OPP Photos of Scene;
  • Communications Recordings; and
  • Screenshots of Text Communication received from OPP.

Materials obtained from Other Sources

The SIU obtained and reviewed the following materials and documents from other sources:
  • Toxicology report from the Centre of Forensic Sciences.

Incident Narrative

On November 18, 2019, at about 3:00 p.m., [2] the Sioux Lookout Detachment of the OPP was notified of a man – the Complainant – with a shotgun in Kejick Bay, Lac Seul First Nation. The Complainant was suicidal and had barricaded himself in the bedroom of a residence. The SO was designated as the Critical Incident Commander and tasked with responding to the call. The SO’s mandate was to isolate and contain the residence, evacuate the area and residents at risk, and negotiate the safe surrender of the Complainant, while considering the safety of the public, the police and the Complainant.

The SO and a TRU team flew into Sioux Lookout and then took a bus to the incident scene, where they arrived between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m. on November 19, 2019.

At about 1:00 p.m., with TRU officers present inside the home, the Complainant discharged a single shot from a shotgun at his head, resulting in his death.


Post-Mortem Report

The Report of Postmortem Examination, dated April 21, 2020, confirmed that the Complainant’s immediate cause of death was “exsanguination due to or as the consequence of a gunshot wound to the neck with massive soft tissue and vascular injury to the left lateral neck”. The report further noted that, “Methamphetamine and Amphetamine toxicity,” was a significant condition contributing to the death but not causally related to the immediate cause of death.

Relevant Legislation

Sections 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

The SIU’s investigation into the circumstances surrounding the Complainant’s death consisted of interviews with the SO; one civilian witness; and, four witness police officers. The investigation was also assisted by a review of the police communication recordings, which captured much of the police efforts in the hours prior to the Complainant’s death. On a review of this evidence, for the reasons that follow, I am unable to form reasonable grounds to believe that the SO, or any member of the TRU team, committed a criminal offence in connection with the Complainant’s death.

Prior to the arrival of the SO and the TRU team, OPP and Lac Seul Police Service officers had responded to set up containment around the home. They had evacuated the area, arranged for an ambulance to stage at the scene and made efforts to contact the Complainant. At 7:51 a.m., the SO learned that the Complainant had briefly come to the door of his residence and advised a police officer that he did not wish to “hurt you guys”; at that time, the Complainant made no reference to being suicidal or wishing to harm himself.

Over a five-hour period following the arrival of the SO, the police pursued various options to establish communication with the Complainant to negotiate the surrender of his firearm and his safe removal from the home. A throw phone, with a camera, had been placed in the home prior to the TRU team’s arrival. The Complainant had used the phone at about 7:30 a.m. to indicate he was coming to the front door of the house, but all further attempts to reach him with the phone were unsuccessful. The same was true of efforts to reach him via a loud hailer.

An action plan was formulated in which the TRU was prepared to make immediate entry into the home should it be found to be necessary to prevent the Complainant causing himself serious bodily harm or death. At about 11:22 a.m., more than three hours after the police had last heard from the Complainant, a distractionary device was deployed outside the home in the hopes that it would stimulate some response from the Complainant in order that police could be satisfied that he was still alive. However, there was no response from the Complainant and no movement seen inside the house. At about 11:40 a.m., a tracked robot, with a camera, was deployed into the house to allow police to see what was going on. The robot camera revealed that the Complainant was behind a closed door of a bedroom inside the house, but no movement was detected. The bedroom window was breached and a pole camera was used to see inside. It revealed the Complainant lying on the bed covered by a blanket. At that time, a slight movement was detected from the Complainant, confirming that he was still alive.

The SO, fearing that the Complainant may have already done himself harm, but was still alive, directed that the TRU team enter the house. Officers quietly entered the home and cleared the residence. The door leading to the bedroom where the Complainant had been seen was opened and the Complainant was repeatedly directed by officers to show his hands. The Complainant did not respond. A police service dog entered the room and was directed to approach the Complainant to attempt to disable him from accessing a weapon or doing himself harm; the dog entered the room but stopped before reaching the Complainant. As the officers moved toward the Complainant, a gunshot was heard from beneath the blanket covering the Complainant and blood was observed on the wall behind the Complainant’s head. Upon closer inspection, it was discovered that the Complainant had had a shotgun concealed under the blanket and the barrel had been under his chin. The blanket covering the Complainant had been up and over his shoulders, completely obscuring the shotgun from view.

The offence that arises for consideration in this case is that of criminal negligence causing death contrary to section 220 of the Criminal Code. This offence is predicated, in part, on conduct that amounts to a marked and substantial departure from the level of care that a reasonable person would have exercised in the circumstances.

The SO and the involved police officers were clearly carrying out their lawful duties in attending and attempting to convince the Complainant to abandon his weapon and his intent to take his own life. I am satisfied that the SO, and the members of the TRU team, acted with prudence in not entering the home until they had exhausted all reasonable measures at their disposal to resolve the standoff peacefully and it appeared the Complainant was in medical distress. The SO feared, reasonably in my view, that doing so could provoke a rash response from the Complainant. It was only after several hours and numerous attempts to evince a response from the Complainant to negotiate his safe removal from the home that the SO, fearing that the Complainant might have already acted to end his life, but with hopes that his life could still be saved, sent in the TRU team to intercede. Unfortunately, the Complainant, at the presence of the TRU officers inside the bedroom, acted quickly to bring his life to an end before the police could prevent him doing so.

The Complainant’s death was no doubt tragic. Troubled by what he perceived was his pending arrest for a crime he did not commit, and perhaps impaired by methamphetamine in his system, the Complainant decided to take his own life. The officers on scene, led by the SO, did what they reasonably could to prevent any harm coming to the Complainant. The fact that they were unable to do so is most unfortunate, but far from criminal. In the final analysis, the record establishes that the SO and the TRU officers acted professionally throughout and did not cause or contribute to the Complainant’s death in any way that could attract criminal sanction. Accordingly, there is no basis for proceeding with criminal charges against the SO or any other officer in connection with the Complainant’s death, and the file is closed.


Date: May 4, 2020

Electronically approved by


Joseph Martino
Director
Special Investigations Unit

Footnotes

  • 1) Crisis Negotiator Call Records are the OPP recordings made by the crisis negotiator into the throw phone placed in the Complainant’s residence. The Complainant only acknowledged the throw phone once. [Back to text]
  • 2) All times are Central Time. [Back to text]