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SIU Director’s Report - Case # 20-PCD-055

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 31-year-old man (the “Complainant”).

The Investigation

Notification of the SIU

On March 12, 2020 at 8:30 p.m., the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) contacted the SIU to report the death of the Complainant. According to the OPP, on March 12, 2020 at about 5:00 p.m., the mother of the deceased called 911 to report that her son was inside their residence on Copenhagen Road threatening suicide. She also reported that her son had access to guns inside the residence. When officers arrived at the scene, an officer saw the Complainant exit the residence carrying a rifle. The officer then followed the Complainant in the direction he was walking. The officer found the Complainant on the ground with a gunshot wound and obviously deceased.

Arrangements were made with the OPP to collect any short-lived evidence.

The Team

Number of SIU Investigators assigned: 2
Number of SIU Forensic Investigators (FIs) assigned: 2

Complainants

Complainant: 31-year-old male, deceased


Civilian Witnesses

CW #1 Interviewed
CW #2 Not interviewed – next-of-kin to the Complainant
CW #3 Not interviewed – next-of-kin to the Complainant

Witness Officers

WO #1 Interviewed
WO #2 Interviewed


Subject Officers

SO Declined to be interviewed and declined to submit notes, as is the subject officer’s legal right.


Evidence

The Scene

The scene of the incident was a residence located on Copenhagen Road, Shuniah Township, Thunder Bay. The area was rural and secluded with hills and trees. The residence was located about 160 metres from the west side of the roadway.

The Complainant’s body was located near a large tree located approximately 11.9 metres northeast of the residence. The SIU agreed that the OPP would process the inside of the residence and the SIU would process the outside scene.

There was evidence of fresh snow overnight on March 12, 2020. There was deep snow in the bush and area surrounding the residence. Footprints in the deep snow headed northeast from the residence towards the large tree. The area southeast of the tree had been marked by the OPP with flags and paint. There was an indentation in the snow of a rifle impression.

An SIU FI photographed and video recorded the outdoor scene.

The area in proximity to the large tree was too steep and the snow was too deep to allow for the area to be mapped.

On March 14, 2020, at 11:40 a.m., an SIU FI met with an OPP FI and received a semi-automatic 30-06 rifle, which had been removed from the scene. The OPP also turned over a single spent Hornady 30-06 cartridge case.

Video/Audio/Photographic Evidence

The SIU canvassed the area for any video or audio recordings, and photographic evidence, but was not able to locate any.

Police Communications Recordings


911 Call


This incident commenced when CW #1 and her sister called 911 on March 12, 2020 at 4:41 p.m. The duration of the 911 call is 25 minutes and 14 seconds.
  • CW #1’s sister tells the 911 operator that the Complainant is in the house with a gun and threatening to use it;
  • The Complainant’s mother [later identified as CW #1] came running into their house from her house next door asking for help;
  • The 911 dispatcher tells CW #1’s sister to hold on the line as she dispatches OPP officers to respond to the house;
  • CW #1 can be heard in the background crying and giving information to her sister;
  • CW #1’s sister tells the 911 dispatcher that the Complainant suffers from depression, is a drug addict and had been doing drugs during the day;
  • CW #1’s sister says she does not know if the gun is loaded or if the Complainant has any ammunition for the gun in the house;
  • CW #1’s sister says nobody actually saw the gun and it was the Complainant who told his mother he had a gun;
  • The 911 dispatcher tells CW #1’s sister she wishes to speak with CW #1 and the telephone was handed to her;
  • CW #1 tells the 911 dispatcher her husband was a hunter and had passed away, and she is not sure what happened to the guns he owned;
  • CW #1 said her son threatened to shoot himself;
  • She said the guns were in a cabinet in the basement and all the locks on the cabinet had been cut;
  • She did not know who cut the locks off the cabinet;
  • There was nobody else in the house when she left and ran next door to her sister’s;
  • She left the front and back doors open;
  • The 911 dispatcher tells CW #1 not to go back to the house and that she has numerous OPP officers on the way;
  • CW #1 did not know if the Complainant had been drinking and was upset because he missed his methadone clinic;
  • CW #1 said her son had not attempted suicide in the past but was very depressed;
  • CW #1 said her son did not live with her at the house and showed up early in the morning;
  • She hid the keys to her vehicle parked in the laneway;
  • She had earlier gone into the Complainant’s bedroom in the basement of her house and she took some drugs away from him;
  • The Complainant was passed out in the bedroom;
  • She gave the 911 dispatcher a physical description of the Complainant and a description of clothing he was wearing;
  • The Complainant told his mother it was all on her and she got scared and ran from the house;
  • CW #1 told the 911 dispatcher she could not see anything from where she was in the house beside hers;
  • She constantly begged and told the Complainant to get help and noticed a change mostly in the last six months;
  • The 911 dispatcher says the OPP officers are close to the house now and wants to keep CW #1 on the line; and
  • The 911 dispatcher tells CW #1 there are numerous OPP officers now on scene and ends the call.


Radio Transmissions


OPP Dispatch Audio 1

This OPP communications segment is a narrative between the OPP dispatcher and the responding OPP officers. The dispatch recording commences on March 12, 2020, at 4:42 p.m. and is 42 minutes and 46 seconds in duration.
  • The OPP dispatcher relays the 911 call for service to an OPP unit to attend a call at Copenhagen Road;
  • The OPP dispatcher advises that the 911 caller said that her nephew [later identified as the Complainant] is inside the house with a gun, threatening to kill himself;
  • An OPP officer responds and is en route to the call along with another OPP officer;
  • A number of OPP officers respond over the police radio that they will be attending the location on Copenhagen Road;
  • The OPP dispatcher updates the responding OPP officers on the information she had obtained from the 911 caller;
  • The OPP dispatcher updates the responding OPP officers that the Complainant was alone in the house, and had told his mother there would be a murder/suicide and he would blow his head off;
  • The OPP dispatcher tells the responding OPP officers that the Provincial Communications Centre (PCC) sergeant had spoken with CW #1, who told the sergeant she was fairly confident there were additional firearms inside her house;
  • The dispatcher tells the OPP officers that the Complainant said if any police officer goes near him, he will shoot himself;
  • The PCC sergeant is on the telephone with the Complainant;
  • An OPP officer says over the police radio that the Complainant just came out of the house and is on the trail at the back of the house;
  • An OPP officer says the Complainant has a gun and repeats the broadcast over the police radio;
  • An OPP officer requests a medic to attend their location;
  • An OPP officer says the Complainant is near a dead white pine tree located on the north side of the house off the deck and this is where he heard the sound of a gunshot;
  • The OPP officer saw smoke from the gunshot near this pine tree;
  • An OPP officer [later identified as WO #1] broadcasts to another OPP officer [later identified as WO #2] that the Complainant is down;
  • An ambulance is requested and an OPP officer advises there is a medic already on scene to attend to the location of the Complainant;
  • WO #1 broadcasts over the police radio that there is a confirmed “45” (death), no movement, and it is self-inflicted;
  • An authorization was approved to clear the house to secure; and
  • An OPP officer, believed to be a supervisor, asks the PCC to have the on-call SIU liaison officer call him.

OPP Dispatch Audio 6

This communication segment is the conversation between the PCC sergeant and the Complainant. The recording is dated March 12, 2020, commencing at 5:03 p.m., and is 42 minutes and 1 second in duration.
  • The OPP PCC sergeant has a conversation with another OPP officer, who is in Dryden, about the ongoing incident on Copenhagen Road;
  • The OPP officers agree if the Complainant is alone in the house and suicidal then there is no reason to rush into the house;
  • The OPP PCC sergeant calls the residence on Copenhagen Road and receives no answer. He leaves a message on the answering service for the Complainant identifying himself and requests the Complainant to pick up the phone so he can speak with him;
  • The OPP PCC sergeant advises that the Complainant is not in any trouble, he just wants to have a chat and to have the Complainant call him back at the phone number he provides;
  • The OPP PCC sergeant calls CW #1 and asks her if she has heard anything back from her son, the Complainant;
  • CW #1 confirms with the OPP PCC sergeant that she is currently at her sister and brother-in-law’s house next door and identifies them;
  • CW #1 is confident that there are additional firearms inside her house and that some of the firearms are inside the fireplace in the basement;
  • The firearms had been inside locked cabinets and the Complainant cut the locks and removed the firearms from the cabinets;
  • CW #1 thinks there may be about three firearms in the fireplace and a couple hidden inside the ceiling in the Complainant’s basement bedroom;
  • None of the firearms were high powered and her other son [later identified as CW #2] said there was no ammunition in the house;
  • CW #1 told the OPP PCC sergeant that the Complainant had no access to any vehicles;
  • The OPP PCC sergeant obtains a phone number from CW #1 for the Complainant’s cellular phone;
  • The OPP PCC sergeant calls the cellular phone number and a voice message from the Complainant is received;
  • The OPP PCC sergeant leaves a message for the Complainant to call him;
  • The OPP PCC sergeant calls the home phone of the residence on Copenhagen Road and leaves a message for the Complainant on the answering service for the Complainant to call him back;
  • An OPP sergeant relieves the OPP PCC sergeant in the PCC and calls the cellular phone of the Complainant and the Complainant answers the phone;
  • The Complainant is very quiet on the phone and eventually has a conversation with the sergeant;
  • The Complainant tells the sergeant that he wants to hurt himself by blowing his own head off and does not want any help;
  • The Complainant says he has had enough, life sucks, everything is bringing him down and the weight is too heavy for his soul;
  • The Complainant does not want to go outside and speak with the OPP officers;
  • The sergeant continues to ask the Complainant if he is there and okay, but there is no response and the phone line goes quiet and then disconnects;
  • A second PCC sergeant calls CW #1 and tells her, her sister, and her brother-in-law to go into the basement area of the house;
  • The second PCC sergeant tells CW #1 that the OPP officers are working on a plan to evacuate them from the house;
  • He tells CW #1 that another sergeant had spoken with the Complainant and OPP officers are attempting to negotiate with him;
  • The second PCC sergeant calls the Provincial Operations Centre (POC) and speaks with a sergeant;
  • The second PCC sergeant advises that the Complainant went outside and is now deceased; and
  • The second PCC sergeant requests the POC contact the SIU liaison to notify the SIU of the call.

Materials obtained from Police Service

Upon request, the SIU obtained and reviewed the following materials and documents from the OPP:
  • OPP communication recordings;
  • Computer-Assisted Dispatch;
  • Canadian Police Information Centre report – the Complainant;
  • Notes of the WOs and three other police officers;
  • Homicide Sudden Death Report;
  • OPP photographs; and
  • Private Firearm Acquired - CFP.

Materials obtained from Other Sources

In addition to the materials received from the OPP, the SIU obtained and reviewed the following materials from other sources:
  • The Report of Postmortem Examination, dated May 22, 2020, from the Coroner’s Office; and
  • The Preliminary Autopsy Findings from the Ontario Forensic Pathology Service.

Incident Narrative

The material events in question are clear on the evidence collected by the SIU, which included interviews with the Complainant’s mother – CW #1 – and a couple of Emergency Response Team (ERT) officers who were on scene at the time the shot that took the Complainant’s life was fired. As was his legal right, the SO declined to interview with the SIU or authorize the release of his notes. The investigation further benefitted from a review of the 911 call and police radio transmissions.

At about 4:40 p.m., CW #1 called 911 from her neighbour’s house. She reported that her son was in her home – on Copenhagen Road, Shuniah Township – and had threatened to take his life as well as hers.

The OPP ERT, under the overall supervision of the SO, was immediately mobilized and dispatched to the address. Team members proceeded to block the roadways in the vicinity and then set about establishing a perimeter around the home. With the scene contained, efforts were made to contact the Complainant via the home’s landline. These proved unsuccessful. The Complainant did, however, pick up his cell phone when it was rung by a sergeant in the PCC. The sergeant assured the Complainant that the police were there to help and asked him to come out and speak with the officers. The Complainant demurred. He expressed feelings of despair and depression, indicated he wished to end his life, and eventually hung up the phone.

The Complainant had struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. His mental health had also been deteriorating in recent times, particularly with the passing of his father in January 2019. Despite her best efforts to help her son, CW #1 made it clear to the Complainant in November 2019 that he was no longer welcome in her home; his behaviour had become too much for her to handle. However, when the Complainant showed up at the home at about 4:00 a.m. on March 12, 2020 seeking help, CW #1 opened her door. Around noon, the two of them argued. The Complainant accused CW #1 of taking his drugs. In fact, worried for her son’s well-being, she had. CW #1 encouraged her son to seek medical help, but he was not receptive. Still later that afternoon, the two argued again when CW #1 refused to drive him to Thunder Bay. The Complainant threw a wooden bowl at her and threatened he would commit suicide. He later began to speak in fatalistic terms, telling his mother he loved her but that perhaps he would commit a murder/suicide as he had nothing to lose. Fearing for her safety, CW #1 left for her sister’s house next door when the Complainant went to the basement where her deceased husband’s firearms were stored.

About an hour-and-a-half after he had hung up the phone on the sergeant, the Complainant emerged from the home holding a scoped rifle. From a position about 15 to 20 metres from the home, WO #2 observed the Complainant on the front deck of the house with the firearm. WO #2 followed him at a distance as the Complainant jumped down the front deck of the residence and began to walk toward a forested area northeast of the residence. Aware that the officer was behind him, the Complainant turned to face WO #2, raised his rifle and pointed it in the officer’s direction. As he moved to seek cover, WO #2 heard a loud gunshot. The Complainant, holding the rifle inside his mouth, had shot himself. The time was about 7:28 p.m.

WO #2 made his way to where he had last seen the Complainant and discovered his lifeless body lying on the snow near a large tree. WO #1 had also heard the shot and was the first to reach the body. The officer removed the rifle from the Complainant’s body and placed it down on the snow.

Cause of Death


The pathologist at the Complainant’s autopsy was of the view that the cause of the Complainant’s death was an “intraoral gunshot wound”.

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 220, Criminal Code -- Causing death by criminal negligence 

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

In the evening of March 12, 2020, the Complainant passed away, the result of a gunshot wound to the head. Officers with the OPP’s ERT were in and around the area at the time of the Complainant’s death. 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 death.

The only offence that arises for consideration is criminal negligence causing death contrary to section 220 of the Criminal Code. Being an offence of penal negligence, liability is premised, 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. In the instant case, the question boils down to whether the officers did or failed to do something which contributed to the Complainant’s death and was so derelict as to attract criminal sanction. The answer, in my view, is clearly in the negative.

While one sympathizes with the Complainant’s hopelessness in the hours before his death, the officers had good cause to be concerned with public safety given his access to firearms, his stated intention to kill himself and the threat he had made against his mother. The ERT acted prudently in first tending to the protection of third-parties in the area by blocking the roadways and setting up a perimeter around the home. That done, they turned their attention to efforts at negotiating the Complainant’s peaceful surrender while surrounding and maintaining observations of the home. When they finally managed to reach the Complainant on the phone, he confirmed that he was bent on harming himself and warned he would do so immediately if confronted by an officer. The officers were aware that the Complainant was on the precipice; however, they were also of the view, rightfully in my opinion, that their withdrawal was not an option. When the Complainant suddenly exited the home, just before 7:30 p.m., the officers had very little time to react before he pulled the trigger of the rifle he was carrying and caused his own death. During that brief interval, the Complainant had pointed the rifle at WO #2, effectively foreclosing any options the police might have pursued to thwart what the Complainant was about to do. On this record, I am satisfied that the police operation around CW #1’s home, in its development and execution, was pursued with appropriate regard for the health and safety of all concerned, including the Complainant and the officers.

In the result, as I am unable to reasonably conclude that the conduct of the police, under the overall supervision of the SO, contributed to the Complainant’s self-inflicted death in any manner that could attract criminal sanction, there is no basis for proceeding with criminal charges and the file is closed.


Date: July 31, 2020

Electronically approved by

Joseph Martino
Director
Special Investigations Unit