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SIU Director’s Report - Case # 20-OCI-050

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 injuries that a 36-year-old man (the “Complainant”) suffered.

The Investigation

Notification of the SIU

On March 9, 2020 at 9:20 a.m., the Gananoque Police Service (GPS) reported an injury that occurred on March 6, 2020.

The GPS reported that on March 5, 2020, at about 10:00 p.m., the Complainant was arrested for possessing a stolen motor vehicle and returned to the police station where he was lodged in a cell. The Complainant was allowed to retain his belt as his pants would fall without it. At about 3:00 a.m., on March 6, 2020, the Complainant placed his belt around his neck. The Subject Officer (SO) entered the cell and took the belt from the Complainant. When he did, the Complainant pushed past the SO and ran into the booking area. The SO chased and tackled the Complainant and returned him to the cell.

The Complainant was subsequently remanded into custody in the Brockville Jail.

On March 9, 2020, the GPS was notified that the Complainant had been taken to hospital by jail staff when he complained of chest pain and diagnosed with fractured ribs.

The Team

Number of SIU Investigators assigned: 3

Complainants

Complainant: 36-year-old male interviewed, medical records obtained and reviewed


Witness Officers

WO Interviewed


Subject Officers

SO Declined to be interviewed, as is the subject officer’s legal right, but submitted notes for review.


Evidence

The Scene

This incident occurred in the cell block area at GPS headquarters. The SIU was notified a couple of day after the incident and, as such, there was no scene for examination. Although the scene was not preserved and examined following notification, the area was viewed by SIU investigators during their attendance to interview the WO.

The metal and wooden tables in the cell block corridor were both observed with white, rubber material wrapped around the sharp edges and corners as a makeshift bumper. The GPS advised the SIU investigators that they had taken initiative to install the material in order to reduce the edges’ potential for causing injury.

Video/Audio/Photographic Evidence


GPS Cell Video Recordings:


Five closed-circuit security cameras were mounted in the GPS cell block area. The full-motion colour video recordings with audio captured the incident in which the Complainant was injured.

At 3:11 a.m., the Complainant was standing in the cell when he removed a light-coloured belt from his waistband and tied it around his neck. He appeared to tighten the belt to choke himself before saying he could not do it, was not strong enough and yelled loudly. The SO then appeared at the cell door. He opened the door and reached in to take the belt. The Complainant pushed the SO and moved past him into the hallway beyond the entrance to the cell area.

The Complainant ran along the hallway as the SO appeared to have some control of his left arm before losing his grasp. As the Complainant ran down the hallway, the SO grabbed the Complainant’s right arm. As the Complainant continued running, the SO grabbed him with both hands. By that time, the Complainant reached a metal table in the corridor. He struck the table with his left torso area as the SO forcibly leaned into him.

The SO grabbed the Complainant and, with his weight against the Complainant, he struck the table. The Complainant struggled with the SO, who appeared to have difficulty gaining control. The Complainant’s pants fell to his knees, exposing his buttocks. The Complainant was restrained as he screamed incoherently and repeatedly said he wanted to die.

While standing in the corridor with the SO holding his right arm, the Complainant placed his open left hand against his left chest area, appearing to be in pain.

The WO then arrived to assist as the Complainant pleaded with the police officers to let him go. Before he was handcuffed with his hands behind his back by both police officers, he managed to break free of their grip and attempted to flee again.

The Complainant was heard on the recordings repeatedly asking the police officers to kill him.

He was then placed face down on the floor where a body restraint was applied, and a hockey-type helmet placed on his head before the SO and the WO returned him to the cell.

At no time during this interaction did either police officer punch, kick or otherwise strike the Complainant.

Video recordings of the Complainant’s entire detention on this occasion revealed he exited the cell on two occasions after he was initially lodged at 11:12 p.m. on March 5, 2020.

At 11:16 p.m., the WO removed him from the cell to call his lawyer and relodged him 15 minutes later, at 11:31 p.m.

Following that, the Complainant moved about the cell almost non-stop, walking around, and standing and pacing on the concrete bunk, talking to himself, singing and yelling incoherently.

After exiting the cell in the episode during which he attempted to escape, the Complainant was relodged at 3:29 a.m., wearing the full body restraint. At 5:40 a.m., the SO and the WO entered the cell and removed the restraint.

The Complainant then remained in the cell until 8:00 a.m., when he was transported to court.

Materials obtained from Police Service

Upon request, the SIU obtained and reviewed the following materials and documents from the GPS:
  • Cell Block Video;
  • GPS-Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) Report – the Complainant;
  • Notes-the SO;
  • Notes-the WO;
  • Occurrence Summary-this incident (Arrest Report);
  • Prisoner Log-the Complainant;
  • Procedure - Arrest; and
  • Procedure - Prisoner Care and Control.

Materials obtained from Other Sources

In addition to the materials received from the GPS, SIU obtained and reviewed the following materials from other sources:
  • The Complainant’s medical records.

Incident Narrative

Thanks in large measure to video recordings captured by police cameras of the Complainant’s time in custody, the material events in question are relatively clear. At about 10:50 p.m. on March 5, 2020, the Complainant was arrested without incident by the SO for the theft of a motor vehicle. He was taken to the police station and lodged in a cell.

The following day, at about 3:10 a.m., the Complainant was observed on a video monitor to be wrapping his belt around his neck as a ligature. The SO arrived at his cell, opened the door, and removed his belt. The Complainant seized the occasion to push past the SO. He had made it as far as the booking area when he was pushed from behind by the SO into a metal table. The Complainant’s chest struck the table’s edge as he went down with the officer’s weight behind him, who had gone down with the Complainant. There ensued a struggle as the Complainant grabbed hold of one of the table’s legs and refused to let go as the SO, shortly aided by the WO, pulled him in the opposite direction. The officers’ superior manpower quickly won out and the Complainant was returned to his cell.

Relevant Legislation

Section 25(1), Criminal Code -- Protection of persons acting under authority

25 (1) Every one who is required or authorized by law to do anything in the administration or enforcement of the law
(a) as a private person,
(b) as a peace officer or public officer,
(c) in aid of a peace officer or public officer, or
(d) by virtue of his office,
is, if he acts on reasonable grounds, justified in doing what he is required or authorized to do and in using as much force as is necessary for that purpose.

Analysis and Director's Decision

The Complainant was arrested by the SO on March 5, 2020 in Gananoque. In the early morning hours of the following day, while still in custody at the police station, the Complainant suffered two broken left-sided ribs. The SO was identified as the subject officer for purposes of the SIU investigation. On my assessment of the evidence, there are no reasonable grounds to believe that the SO committed a criminal offence in connection with the Complainant’s arrest and injuries.

Pursuant to section 25(1) of the Criminal Code, police officers are immune from criminal liability for force used in the course of their duties provided such force was reasonably necessary in the execution of an act that they were authorized or required to do by law. Not having had an opportunity to interview the SO, it is unclear what the precise grounds were for the Complainant’s arrest. The SO’s notes suggest he believed he was entitled to take the Complainant into custody based on his location in the vicinity of the stolen vehicle, which was still running at the time, and the fact that the vehicle had been stolen from a business that was en route from the Complainant’s residence. While this strikes me as thin gruel, I am unable to reasonably conclude with confidence that the Complainant’s arrest was unlawful.

The issue turns to the propriety of the force by the SO, which is more readily resolved. Once in the lawful custody of the police, the officers were entitled to exercise control over the Complainant’s movement to ensure he was safely processed through the system according to law. When the Complainant attempted to bypass that control in an ill-fated flight from his cell, the SO was within his rights in using a measure of force to re-establish custody. He did so by pushing the Complainant into an obstacle that lined his direction of travel, a table in the booking area. The tactic, in my view, was reasonable and effective. Within moments, the Complainant was again under control and in his cell.

In the result, while it is regrettable that the Complainant’s ribs were fractured when he was forced downwards and struck a table in the process, I am satisfied on reasonable grounds that the takedown was a measured and proportionate response to the exigencies at hand.

According, there is no basis for proceeding with criminal charges against the subject officer, and the file is closed.


Date: June 1, 2020
Electronically approved by

Joseph Martino
Director
Special Investigations Unit