SIU Director: Two Toronto Police Officers Acted in Self-Defence in Fatal Shooting of Kwasi Skene-Peters
Case Number: 15-TFD-165
Other News Releases Related to Case 15-TFD-165
(30 June, 2016) ---
The Director of the Special Investigations Unit has found that two officers were acting in self-defence and were legally justified in shooting Kwasi Skene-Peters on July 25, 2015, in downtown Toronto.
The SIU assigned seven investigators and four forensic investigators to carefully examine the circumstances of this incident. The two subject officers in this investigation declined to participate in SIU interviews or provide copies of their duty notes, as is their legal right.
Evidence gathered as part of this investigation includes the following:
- Forensic analysis of two seized police-issued firearms;
- forensic analysis of two seized non-police-issued firearms recovered at the scene;
- DNA analysis of blood on one of the non-police firearms;
- video and audio from a police in-car camera system;
- video and audio from a civilian in-car camera system;
- civilian-recorded video footage;
- interviews with 17 witness officers;
- interviews with seven civilian witnesses;
- examination of seized physical evidence from the scene; and
- ballistic trajectory analysis.
The SIU investigation determined the following:
- On July 24, 2015, the Toronto Police Service received information indicating Mr. Skene-Peters would be attending the Tryst Nightclub located at 82 Peter Street in downtown Toronto and that he was armed and dangerous. Two weeks earlier, a Canada-wide warrant had been issued for the arrest of Mr. Skene-Peters on two charges of first-degree murder.
- Several officers were sent to the Tryst Nightclub to set up surveillance. The Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) Unit was also enlisted to provide additional officer support.
- Shortly after 2:00 a.m., undercover officers identified Mr. Skene-Peters in the Tryst Nightclub lineup. There was a dispute between some people in the lineup, which resulted in two men heading south towards the parking lot. They approached Mr. Skene-Peters’ car, and one of the individuals removed what was suspected to be a firearm and placed it into the vehicle. The two men then returned to the nightclub.
- Around 3:00 a.m., Mr. Skene-Peters and the other man returned to the vehicle.
- Shortly after, another vehicle driven by a civilian stopped directly in front of Mr. Skene-Peters’ car, boxing him in. At that time, police initiated a takedown.
- Multiple uniformed police officers, police officers on bicycles, undercover police officers, marked police vehicles, stealth police vehicles, and undercover surveillance vehicles converged on Mr. Skene-Peters’ car.
- Three uniformed TAVIS officers (two of whom are the subject officers) quickly moved from the alleyway in the rear of the parking lot and approached the front of Mr. Skene-Peters’ car with their firearms drawn. They repeatedly shouted police challenges, yelling “Stop”, “Put your hands up”, “Police”, “You’re under arrest” and “Freeze – don’t move”.
- As the officers continued to shout, a firefight erupted. It lasted approximately four seconds. It was during this exchange of gunfire that Mr. Skene-Peters sustained a single, fatal gunshot wound to the chest.
- Multiple witnesses said that while police were yelling demands at Mr. Skene-Peters, two gunshots rang out. These shots came from inside Mr. Skene-Peters’ vehicle. At least one shot went through the windshield, towards the three police officers.
- After the initial shots, the two subject officers returned fire by simultaneously discharging their weapons multiple times at Mr. Skene-Peters’ vehicle.
- During this four-second shootout, Mr. Skene-Peters exited his vehicle and ran behind two other vehicles towards Peter Street. At that point, Mr. Skene-Peters tripped over a man who had fallen on the ground. As Mr. Skene-Peters hit the ground, a black semi-automatic handgun flew from his right hand and landed at the feet of another police officer.
- Police officers arrested Mr. Skene-Peters as soon as he landed on the ground. They discovered his wound and he was rushed to St. Michael’s Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 3:59 a.m. The cause of his death was a single gunshot wound that went through the right ventricle of his heart.
- There was another man in the front passenger seat of the vehicle when the shooting began. After the shooting stopped, he crawled out of the car and took refuge underneath an adjacent truck parked on the passenger side of Mr. Skene-Peters’ vehicle. He was arrested moments later.
- The time that elapsed from when the takedown order was issued until Mr. Skene-Peters was apprehended was less than 30 seconds.
SIU Director Tony Loparco said, “Given the fact that the officers in this case were acting on the basis of a valid arrest warrant, the only issue that I need to consider is whether the shooting was justified in the circumstances. The evidence establishes that it was. The applicable provision of the Criminal Code is section 34(1) which provides the legal justification for the use of force in defence of self and defence of others. A person is not guilty of an offence if, at the time that they employ the force in question: a) they believe force is being used against them or another person or that a threat of force is being made; b) the force used is to defend or protect themselves or another person; and c) the force is reasonable in the circumstances.
“All of the available evidence allows me to conclude that, upon seeing the police officers closing in around him, Mr. Skene-Peters decided to shoot the officers and attempt to flee the scene. Given the observations of both muzzle flashes from the vehicle interior as well as the windshield glass flying outwards, I can conclude that the two initial gunshots that are heard on the video recording emanated from inside the car. It was only after Mr. Skene-Peters opened fire on the two subject officers that they returned fire. This is captured on the audio portion of the videos as the subsequent rapid sequence of shots. Given that Mr. Skene-Peters fired his weapon a total of six times (based on shell casings recovered from the scene), his further four discharges also contributed to the rapid sequence of shots.
“As soon as the officers announced their presence, they were fired upon. Mr. Skene-Peters shot at the police officers first, and persisted in an active gunfight with them as he exited his vehicle and sustained a gunshot wound to the front of his chest. He triggered this dangerous event in the middle of the downtown Toronto entertainment district. A review of the in-car camera footage reveals that the area surrounding the parking lot was crowded with civilians. The frantic exchange of gunfire lasted less than four seconds, during which I have no doubt the officers feared for their own lives, the lives of one another and the lives of the multiple civilians and police officers in the immediate vicinity. In fact, an examination of one officer’s duty belt revealed what appears to be damage from a bullet strike on the inside of the holster of his gun. Given that the subject officers were being shot at, it was reasonable in the circumstances to make use of their own firearms in response.
“Although both officers declined to participate in the SIU investigation—as is their legal right—the available evidence satisfies all three of the requirements under section 34 of the Criminal Code on a substantial evidentiary foundation. There are no reasonable grounds, in my view, to believe that the subject officers exceeded the ambit of justifiable force in the circumstances. For the foregoing reasons, no charges will issue.”
RE: MR. SKENE-PETERS’ POSSESSION OF A FIREARM
Director Loparco explains, “Rigorous forensic analysis was conducted in relation to this police shooting and I am confident in concluding that Mr. Skene-Peters was in possession of a black 9 mm semi-automatic Springfield Armory pistol as described by the multiple police witnesses on scene. Bloodstains were found on the gun at the rear of the slide and at the bottom of the trigger guard. Testing performed at the Centre of Forensic Sciences revealed that Mr. Skene-Peters was the source of that DNA. The post-mortem examination revealed an injury to Mr. Skene-Peters’ pinky finger that was the likely source of the blood on the gun. There is also the police in-car camera footage of Mr. Skene-Peters falling to the ground with a linear black object clenched in his right hand that is consistent with the profile of the Springfield Armory pistol. Forensic analysis of a firearm found near the other man in Mr. Skene-Peter’s vehicle confirms that the weapon was not fired during the course of the confrontation. The significance of this piece of evidence is that it supports the conclusion that the gunshots that came from inside the car were fired exclusively by Mr. Skene-Peters. Ballistic trajectory evidence further confirmed that the shots fired originated from the driver’s seat inside the vehicle where Mr. Skene-Peters was seated.”
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.
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