SIU Concludes Investigation in Georgian Bay Custody Death
Case Number: 14-PCD-039
Mississauga (16 October, 2014) --- The Director of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), Tony Loparco, has concluded that there are no reasonable grounds to charge an officer with the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Southern Georgian Bay detachment with any criminal offence in relation to the death of a 54-year-old man in February of this year.
The SIU assigned three investigators and one forensic investigator to probe the circumstances of this incident. As part of the investigation, four witness officer and eight civilian witnesses were interviewed. The subject officer did not consent to an interview or provide a copy of his duty notes, as is his legal right.
The SIU investigation found that the following events took place:
- On February 14, 2014, the subject officer and two witness officers attended the man’s residence in response to a call regarding a domestic matter.
- The subject officer entered the home and made his way to the second floor bedroom to assess the man. One of the witness officer’s initially went to the kitchen to speak with the man’s wife about what had occurred. The witness officer came to understand that the man was drunk and had fallen down a flight of stairs.
- The subject officer asked the man a series of questions about his health and level of awareness.
- Paramedics, who were waiting nearby, soon arrived in the bedroom and took over from the officers in assessing the man.
- The decision was made to arrest the man and have him taken into police custody at the station. A stair-chair was retrieved from the ambulance and used to carry the man down the stairs and to the subject officer’s cruiser.
- When the subject officer arrived with the man at the police station, the man was asleep and was taken to a cell; the time was approximately 8:45 p.m. Aware that the man suffered from sleep apnea, he was placed in a recovery position and a civilian member of the police service was assigned to monitor him.
- The civilian member positioned himself in a location where he was constantly observing the man and was able to hear the sound of his breathing. He became concerned when the man’s breathing became more sporadic and sought the assistance of officers and eventually another witness officer.
- The civilian member and the witness officer entered the man’s cell at about 10:40 p.m. and were unsuccessful in rousing him. With the use of a blanket, they tried to further prop the man onto his side.
- As they did this, the man’s breathing became increasingly laboured and the decision was made to call an ambulance. The man stopped breathing altogether while they waited for the ambulance to arrive and the officers started to administer CPR.
- The paramedics arrived at the station at about 10:50 p.m. and took over CPR efforts from the police. The man was taken by ambulance to Georgian Bay Hospital.
- On February 17, 2014, he was pronounced dead in hospital.
Director Loparco stated, “The immediate cause of the man’s death is known. The post mortem examination report identified the cause of death to be combined toxicity of alcohol, codeine and clonazepam in a man with obstructive sleep apnea. In addition to this, other significant conditions contributing to the death but not causally related to the immediate cause were atherosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease.”
Director Loparco continued, “I am not reasonably satisfied on the evidence that the officers were criminally derelict in the care they offered the man while he was in their custody. If liability is to be found along these lines, it would reside in one or both of sections 215 or 220 of the Criminal Code of Canada: failure to provide the necessaries of life and criminal negligence causing death, respectively. Both offences are predicated on a finding that the impugned conduct amounts to a marked and substantial departure from the level of care that a reasonable person would have exercised in the circumstances.
“Once at the station, the evidence indicates that the officers were cognizant of the heightened dangers of positional asphyxia in an inebriated man with sleep apnea, and took steps to ensure he was placed in a recovery position on the floor of the cell. Thereafter, the man appears to have been regularly monitored by a civilian member of the service. Once it became apparent that the man’s breathing was deteriorating, officers commenced CPR and paramedics were called. Might the officers have acted sooner to arrange for medical attention? Perhaps; the evidence suggests about a half an hour elapsed from the moment the man’s breathing first caused the civilian member concern until an ambulance was called. That said, when one weighs everything the officers knew and did in relation to the man’s health against what they failed to do and ought to have known, I am satisfied the care the man received while in police custody did not transgress the limits prescribed by the criminal law.”
The SIU is an arm’s length agency that investigates reports involving police where there has been death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault. Under the Police Services Act, the Director of the SIU must
- consider whether an officer has committed a criminal offence in connection with the incident under investigation
- depending on the evidence, lay a criminal charge against the officer if appropriate or close the file without any charges being laid
- report the results of any investigations to the Attorney General.
Jasbir Dhillon, firstname.lastname@example.org
SIU Communications/Service des communications, UES
Telephone/No de téléphone: 416-622-2342 or/ou 1-800-787-8529 extension 2342