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SIU Director’s Report - Case # 19-OCI-289

Contents:

News Releases for this Case:

French:

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 28-year-old man (the “Complainant”) suffered.

The Investigation

Notification of the SIU

On November 30, 2019 at 1:20 p.m., the Niagara Regional Police Service (NRPS) reported the injury of a man [now known to be the Complainant]. On November 30, 2019, at about 10:05 a.m., NRPS received a call from Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) about a suspicious man in the area. The police arrived but could not locate the man. At 10:42 a.m., CBSA called and again reported a suspicious man in the area. At 10:45 a.m., a police officer said over the police radio that a man jumped off the bridge. The Complainant was taken to a hospital in Buffalo and diagnosed with multiple fractures.

The Team

Number of SIU Investigators assigned: 3

Complainants

Complainant: 28-year-old male interviewed, medical records obtained and reviewed


Civilian Witnesses

CW Interviewed

Witness Officers

WO #1 Interviewed
WO #2 Interviewed


Subject Officers

SO Declined interview, as is the subject officer’s legal right. Notes received and reviewed.


Evidence

The Scene

The scene was located on the Central Avenue bridge. The bridge is directly over the QEW and the Peace Bridge Toll. The Complainant jumped over the railing onto an embankment with concrete, pebbles and grass. The height of the railing was measured at 1.06 metres from the sidewalk and the distance from the top of the railing to the ground below where the Complainant landed was measured at 6.08 metres. [1]

Video/Audio/Photographic Evidence

The SIU canvassed the area for any video or audio recordings, and photographic evidence, and was able to locate the following sources:
  • Central Avenue Bridge Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV); and
  • Toll Bridge CCTV.


Central Avenue Bridge CCTV


The Peace Bridge Authority (PBA) provided the SIU investigators with two CCTV recordings of the Central Avenue bridge. The first recording started at 10:01:08 a.m. and ended at 10:18:58 a.m. The second recording started at 10:42:24 a.m. and ended at 11:15:02 a.m.

At 10:01:08 a.m., the Complainant is leaning over the bridge. The Complainant is looking from side to side with his hands clasped. The Complainant continued to stand there with his elbow on the guardrail, looking from side to side. At 10:09:21 a.m., the Complainant walked away from the guardrail, south on Central Avenue. The camera moved and, at 10:10:36 a.m., the Complainant crossed the street, walking south on Central Avenue. At 10:11:52 a.m., a NRPS SUV pulled up beside the Complainant and the Complainant spoke to the police officer [now known to be WO #2] through the passenger side window.

At 10:13:14 a.m., a second NRPS SUV arrived. At 10:13:30 a.m., a female police officer [now know to be WO #1] got out of the SUV and walked to the driver’s side of WO #2’s vehicle. The Complainant continued to talk to WO #2 through the passenger side window. At 10:14:32 a.m., a third NRPS SUV arrived and parked behind WO #1’s vehicle. At 10:14:40 a.m., a male NRPS police officer [now known to be the SO] got out of his vehicle and walked behind the rear of WO #1’s vehicle onto the sidewalk. WO #1 also walked towards the sidewalk. Both WO #1 and the SO walked toward the Complainant. WO #1 stood on the Complainant’s left side and the SO stood on the Complainant’s right side. The Complainant stood up and talked to the police officers standing beside him. At 10:18:09 a.m., the Complainant walked away from the police officers, south on Central Avenue towards the intersection. The police officers continued to talk. At 10:18:51 a.m., the Complainant turned right on Garrison Road and continued walking. The CCTV recording ended at 10:18:58 a.m.

At 10:42:53 a.m., the Complainant was on the Central Avenue bridge on the east sidewalk. The Complainant was looking over onto the QEW below and then walked north away from the bridge. The Complainant looked back a few times. At 10:44:26 a.m., the Complainant walked back south towards the bridge. At 10:45:08 a.m., the Complainant walked onto the bridge and then turned around to walk away. At 10:45:20 a.m., the Complainant was walking north away from the bridge and a NRPS SUV drove up. At 10:45:23 a.m., the NRPS SUV stopped beside the Complainant. The Complainant stopped walking and looked at the police vehicle. At 10:45:26 a.m., the police officer [now known to be the SO] opened the driver’s side door and got out of the vehicle. The Complainant was walking on the sidewalk beside the police vehicle, south on Central Avenue. At 10:45:32 a.m., the SO walked to the back of the police vehicle and the Complainant was on the sidewalk facing the SO. At 10:45:34 a.m., the Complainant ran toward the guardrail and the SO was on the roadway behind his police vehicle on the passenger side. The SO started to run toward the Complainant. At 10:45:36 a.m., the Complainant jumped over the railing of the bridge head first. At 10:45:37 a.m., the SO leaned over the guardrail and grabbed the Complainant’s sweater. At 1045:42 a.m., the Complainant slipped from the SO’s grasp and the SO ran north on the bridge. The SO jumped over the guardrail and ran down the grass embankment beside the bridge. At 10:45:51 a.m., a second NRPS SUV arrived and, at 10:46:06 a.m., a male police officer [now known to be WO #2] got out of his police vehicle. WO #2 looked over the guardrail, walked north, stepped over the guardrail and walked down the embankment.


Toll Bridge CCTV


The camera faced the toll bridge and captured the Central Avenue bridge at the top of the screen. At 10:41:30 a.m., the Complainant walked north on Central Avenue onto the bridge. At 10:42:04 a.m., the Complainant flipped his body over the guardrail and hung from the guardrail by his hands. The Complainant was facing away from the bridge towards the toll bridge. At 10:42:30 a.m., the Complainant climbed up and over the guardrail back onto the sidewalk. At 10:43:01 a.m., the Complainant walked north on Central Avenue out of the camera’s view.

At 10:45:25 a.m., a NRPS SUV [now known to be the SO’s police vehicle] with no emergency lights activated drove across the bridge and out of the camera’s view. At 10:45:40 a.m., the Complainant jumped over the bridge. The SO leaned over the guardrail and grabbed the Complainant. At 10:45:46 a.m., the Complainant fell from the SO’s grasp and landed on the rock and grass embankment below. At 10:46:03 a.m., the SO walked down the embankment to the Complainant. At 10:55:13 a.m., an ambulance arrived under the bridge. At 11:13:07 a.m., several emergency vehicles left.

Communications Recordings

The NRPS provided the SIU with communication recordings from November 30, 2019. The radio communications began at 10:08 a.m. and ended at 10:55 a.m.

The dispatcher said there was a welfare check at Central Avenue overpass. There was a man [now known to be the Complainant] on the bridge for the past hour, he was looking over the bridge and there were concerns he may jump. WO #2 said he was going to the bridge. The dispatcher provided a description of the Complainant and said the Complainant walked towards the Tim Hortons. WO #2 said the Complainant was not on the bridge; the Complainant was south of the bridge approaching Garrison Road. Unit 521 [assumed to be the SO] said we are 10-4. The Complainant was fine and he was on his way.

The dispatcher said units were going to Central Avenue overpass and the CW said the Complainant had returned to bridge, leaned over and hung backwards over the bridge. The Complainant started to walk towards Queen Street and then headed back to the bridge. The SO said that he would go first. WO #2 said he was on his way as well. The SO requested an ambulance. The Complainant just jumped over the bridge. The SO got a hold of him and he hit the ground. The SO said they were conscious right now under the overpass, beside the toll booth. WO #2 said the Complainant was conscious and talking. The fall was about 30 feet. The Complainant was complaining of leg and ankle pain. Dispatch said the PBA was shutting down traffic until everyone had cleared the scene. The call ended.


911 Calls


On November 30, 2019, the NRPS received two 911 calls from the CW of the PBA. The first call was received at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 10:12 a.m. The second call was received at 10:42 a.m. and ended at 10:45 a.m.

At 10:05 a.m., the 911 operator asked if the caller wanted police, ambulance or fire. The caller [now known to be the CW] said police. The CW explained that there was a man [now known to be the Complainant] on the Central Avenue Bridge and the Complainant was looking down and stretching. The Complainant had been on the bridge for about 15 minutes to an hour and the Complainant’s behaviour was bizarre. The CW provided a description of the Complainant. The Complainant was on the sidewalk, looking down over the railing onto the QEW. Then, the Complainant started walking across the bridge towards Highway 3. The 911 operator said a police officer [whom events would reveal to be WO #2] was on his way to Central Avenue. The CW moved the cameras to find the Complainant as he was walking and then said the Complainant was crossing the street at the lights, toward the Tim Hortons. At 10:12 a.m., the 911 operator said the police officer [WO #2] was in the area and the CW said that he saw the police officer [WO #2] talking to the Complainant. The call ended.

At 10:42 a.m., the 911 operator received another call from the CW. The CW said the Complainant almost went over the bridge and he had called about the Complainant 20 minutes ago. The Complainant went over the bridge backward, hung on and then climbed back over the railing. The Complainant left the bridge and was walking towards Queen Street, but the Complainant turned around and was coming back to the bridge. The 911 operator said patrol units checked on the Complainant earlier and the Complainant was okay. The CW said that he would go and talk to the Complainant. The CW said the Complainant was walking towards Queen Street and then turned around walking back to the bridge. The 911 operator said the police were on their way. The CW was concerned about what the Complainant would do next and was not sure if the Complainant was putting on a show. The 911 operator said police were there. The call ended.

Materials obtained from Police Service

Upon request, the SIU obtained and reviewed the following materials and documents from NRPS:
  • General Occurrence reports relating to this incident;
  • Communication Recordings (9-1-1 Recordings and Radio Communications);
  • Notes – both WOs; and
  • Notes – the SO.

Materials obtained from Other Sources

In addition to the materials received from the NRPS, SIU obtained and reviewed the following materials from other sources:
  • Central Avenue Bridge CCTV;
  • Toll Bridge CCTV; and
  • Notes regarding incident (time-sequenced) by the CW.

Incident Narrative

The events that transpired in the moments prior to the Complainant’s fall from the bridge are evident on the evidence collected by the SIU, which included interviews with the Complainant, a CW, and WOs, as well as a video recording that captured the incident. At about 10:45 a.m. on November 30, 2019, the SO and WO #2 arrived in separate police vehicles on the bridge to check on the welfare of the Complainant. An employee of the nearby Peace Bridge Authority had contacted police to report that the Complainant had gone over the railing and hung from it for a period before pulling himself back up onto the bridge.

This was the SO’s and WO #2’s second time that morning checking on the Complainant’s welfare. A half-an-hour earlier, the SO and WO #2 had approached the Complainant just south of the bridge. That interaction was prompted when the same Peace Bridge Authority employee called police with concerns that the Complainant might jump. The SO and WO #2 spoke with the Complainant for several minutes, who assured the SO and WO #2 that he was just counting cars and was on his way to visit with his mother. Satisfied that the Complainant was not a threat to himself or anyone else, the SO and WO #2 watched as the Complainant walked away before themselves driving off.

The SO pulled his cruiser alongside the Complainant, who was on the east side of the bridge at its northern end, and exited. As the SO did so, the Complainant walked in a southern direction along the passenger side of the SO’s vehicle and then ran toward the centre of the bridge. The SO went around the rear of his cruiser and chased the Complainant. The Complainant jumped headlong over the bridge railing. The SO reached for and managed to grab hold of the Complainant’s sweatshirt. Regrettably, the Complainant‘s body slipped through the sweatshirt and the Complainant fell down onto an embankment some five metres below the bridge.

Immediately after the fall, the SO and WO #2, WO #2 arriving seconds after the Complainant went over the bridge, maneuvered down onto the embankment where they comforted the Complainant pending the arrival of emergency medical services. The Complainant was taken from the scene to a hospital in Buffalo, where the Complainant was diagnosed and treated for fractures to his pelvis, a rib, and femur.

Relevant Legislation

Section 219, Criminal Code -- Criminal negligence 

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.

Section 221, Criminal Code -- Causing bodily harm by criminal negligence 

221 Every person who by criminal negligence causes bodily harm to another person is guilty of
(a) an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than 10 years; or
(b) an offence punishable on summary conviction.

Analysis and Director's Decision

In the morning of November 30, 2019, the Complainant jumped from the Central Avenue Bridge in Fort Erie and was seriously injured in the process. The SO was on the bridge at the time and 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 injuries.

The only offence that arises for consideration is criminal negligence causing bodily harm contrary to section 221 of the Criminal Code. The 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. On the aforementioned-record, it is clear that the SO did not transgress the limits of care prescribed by the criminal law. The SO was in the lawful discharge of his duty when the SO first responded with other officers to check on the Complainant’s welfare. Just south of the bridge, they spoke with the Complainant and were assured that the Complainant was fine and making his way to visit his mother. Though it appears the SO may have had some knowledge that the Complainant suffered with mental illness, the Complainant appeared calm, composed, and rational in their conversation. In the circumstances, I am unable to find fault with the officers’ decision to not apprehend the Complainant under section 17 of the Mental Health Act. The second interaction on the bridge between the SO and the Complainant was over in a matter of seconds. In that brief interval, the SO did what he could to keep the Complainant from hurting himself. The SO chased after the Complainant and was able to momentarily keep the Complainant from falling before his hold of the Complainant’s sweatshirt gave away. Indeed, the evidence suggests that the SO’s conduct may have prevented the Complainant from running further onto the bridge, where the drop to the ground below – the Queen Elizabeth Way – would have been longer and more perilous.

For the foregoing reasons, I am unable to reasonably conclude that the SO’s conduct throughout his engagements with the Complainant amounted to a marked and substantial deviation from a reasonable level of care. On the contrary, the evidence establishes that the SO discharged his duties professionally throughout his encounter with the Complainant. Accordingly, there is no basis for proceeding with charges in this case, and the file is closed.


Date: July 13, 2020

Electronically approved by

Joseph Martino
Director
Special Investigations Unit

Endnotes

  • 1) The measurements were taken by the NRPS Forensic Services Unit and provided to the SIU in the occurrence report (2019-121603). An SIU forensic investigator did not attend the scene. [Back to text]