No Charges Warranted in Toronto Death Case
Case Number: 15-TCD-257
Other News Releases Related to Case 15-TCD-257
(23 March, 2017) ---
The Director of the Special Investigations Unit, Tony Loparco, has determined there are no reasonable grounds to lay criminal charges against any Toronto Police Service officer in relation to the death of 43-year-old Rodrigo Almonacid Gonzalez in November of 2015.
Four investigators and two forensic investigators were assigned to this incident.
The SIU interviewed 13 civilian witnesses and 12 witness officers. Two subject officers were designated. Neither subject officer participated in an SIU interview nor did they provide the SIU with copies of their duty notes, as is their legal right.
The Unit’s investigation included the review of a 12-minute audio recording which captured the negotiation, forced entry and the apprehension of Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez into police custody. The SIU also obtained police communications recordings, security footage, data from the two conducted energy weapons (CEWs) used, medical records, and a post-mortem report with the associated toxicology report.
Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez was admitted to hospital on November 6, 2015. There were no serious injuries that required treatment, and initial toxicology screenings revealed the presence of cocaine in his body. As such, the SIU did not invoke its mandate. The SIU commenced an investigation the following evening, after Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez died.
The SIU investigation found the following:
- Just after midnight on November 6, 2015, officers were dispatched to an apartment building after receiving a panicked and frantic 911 call. Despite the call being disconnected, police were able to determine the address.
- The first officer entered the unlocked apartment unit and announced his presence. The apartment was dimly lit with various items and pieces of furniture strewn about. Upon hearing a noise coming from the bathroom, the officer called out but received no response. Because of the nature of the 911 call, he was concerned that there was a woman inside the bathroom being assaulted. As such, the officer drew his gun and demanded the bathroom door be opened. There was no response.
- After kicking the door several times, the officer succeeded in forcing it open slightly. He was able to see Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez standing inside alone, holding a porcelain toilet lid above his head. Once the officer confirmed that no one else was inside the bathroom, he pointed his firearm at Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez and demanded that he drop the toilet lid. When Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez refused, the officer slowly backed away down the hallway, and Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez slammed the bathroom door shut.
- By this time, other officers had arrived. A witness told officers that Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez had gone on a rampage, smashing everything in the apartment, and that he had recently consumed cocaine. Banging and smashing sounds could be heard coming from the bathroom. At the request of the officers on scene who deemed it to be unsafe to enter the bathroom, another officer armed with a CEW arrived. However, his attempts to make contact with Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez were unsuccessful.
- Because the officers were dealing with a barricaded individual, the Emergency Task Force (ETF) was dispatched to assist. Upon arrival, one of the ETF officers began negotiations with Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez. Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez answered some questions without issue, but at other times offered no verbal response to the officer’s questions and commands. He would not remove the items blocking the door, and officers could hear smashing and clanging sounds coming from inside the bathroom.
- The ETF drilled a hole in the bathroom door in order to determine the location of Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez. They could see him sitting on the edge of the bathtub with blood on his hands, face and head, but he did not appear to be actively bleeding. Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez then jumped into the bathtub with his knees facing the faucet and began washing his head with shower gel. There was a stench of chemical cleaners, which caused the officers to become concerned that he had ingested noxious substances. They were also worried that he could be harming himself as they could no longer see what he was doing with his hands. Based on his likely use of drugs, his erratic behaviour and the possibility of self-harm, the officers decided to forcibly enter the bathroom in order to apprehend Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez under the Mental Health Act.
- The door was forced open and the ETF officers entered the bathroom. Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez was now sitting on the edge of the bathtub with both feet inside the tub. One of the officers, equipped with a large riot shield, approached him. This officer indicated that Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez was holding a four to six inch screwdriver in his right hand down by his side. The officer raised his shield for protection and shoved Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez backwards, causing him to land on his back in the bathtub which had four to six inches of water in it. Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez began lashing out and punching the officers. Two of the officers present each deployed their CEWs multiple times as Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez continued to struggle. One subject officer discharged his CEW five times, and the other subject officer discharged his CEW three times.
- The officers were eventually able to gain control of Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez and handcuff him. He was placed under a Mental Health Act apprehension and strapped onto a stretcher in preparation for his transport to hospital. While on the stretcher, Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez alternated between periods of calm and bouts of thrashing.
- Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez died at St. Joseph’s Health Centre the next day.
Director Loparco said, “I will begin by indicating that I have no concerns whatsoever with the conduct of the police up to the point of the forced entry into the bathroom. The initial police response to the 911 call was both prompt and sensible. The exigency of the circumstances—namely, a fearful 911 call that abruptly disconnected—provided the first officer on scene a valid basis to enter the residence without a warrant. After confirming that he was dealing with a barricaded person, as opposed to a hostage situation, the officer requested that another officer with a CEW attend the scene. Due to the circumstances, the ETF Unit was called in as well.
“The ETF officer who began negotiations with Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez was calm and candid, and directed his efforts towards both assessing his wellbeing and having him exit the bathroom of his own accord. Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez was provided with ample opportunity to end the standoff situation, but he decided not to do so. Lastly, the decision to forcibly enter the bathroom was lawful. After taking the step of drilling a hole in the door in order to gather more information, officers were of the view that the full body of circumstances reflected a risk that Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez might harm himself. I agree. His persistent and destructive behaviour, use of illegal drugs, selective responsiveness during the negotiation and access to noxious substances provided a basis for an apprehension under the Mental Health Act.”
Director Loparco continued, “The conduct of the officers once they entered the bathroom is more difficult to assess. This is due in large part to the fact that the audio recording only offers limited insight into the precise details about what happened. Furthermore, the accounts of the witness officers are somewhat unclear on a key detail as to whether or not Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez was in possession of an object that could have been used as a weapon.
“Only one of the officers indicated that Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez was in possession of a screwdriver which could have been used as a weapon. It is conceivable that he did in fact have such an object. Photos of the scene show that the bathroom was in a state that can only be described as destroyed. There were various items and components of bathroom fixtures strewn about the room, including tools, chemical cleaner containers and the porcelain toilet lid. While the officer made it clear that Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez did not overtly threaten him with the screwdriver, the officer’s response was to thrust his riot shield at him to protect himself as he advanced. This sent Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez falling backwards into the bathtub.
“The audio recording captures an intense and protracted struggle from that point onwards, which lasted for approximately two minutes and 30 seconds. It captured the officer with the riot shield calling out for a CEW to be deployed, the sounds of an initial discharge, a second discharge and associated screaming from Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez. There are also further discharges sometime after the initial volley. This is consistent with the witness officer accounts that described the first CEW discharge as not having much of an effect on Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez.
“The circumstances surrounding the CEW discharge initially caused me great concern. I was particularly focused on the multiple and overlapping discharges applied to an individual who was wet and in a pool of water at the time. However, the post-mortem report has assuaged my preliminary concerns with respect to the physiological effects of the CEW use on Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez.”
Director Loparco said, “The forensic pathologist’s conclusions relied on a cardiological examination and a toxicological analysis. The pathologist identified the cause of death as complications of acute cocaine toxicity and specifically indicated that cocaine usage can lead to cardiorespiratory collapse. The post-mortem report did not indicate that CEW discharges played any role in the death of Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez.
“Ultimately, I am left in a position where I do not have evidence that reflects excessive use of force. The CEW discharges by both subject officers were initially done at the behest of another officer. By the time he called for that assistance, Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez was already actively resisting the lawful authority of the police. A CEW is designed to be non-lethal in application, and in this instance the use of them was seemingly directed towards gaining compliance. While it is worrisome that there were eight separate discharges by two different CEWs, some of which overlapped with one another, the evidence establishes that Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez was able to struggle through the pain and continue to resist the officers. This would provide a basis for subsequent discharges. The full body of evidence does not support a conclusion that either subject officer transgressed the bounds of section 25(1) of the Criminal Code.”
Director Loparco added, “There were no apparent serious injuries to Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez when he was admitted to hospital. However, a review of photographs taken in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit reflected various injuries that were sustained by him, but which the post-mortem report indicated did not contribute to his death. The presence of these injuries raised concerns about the possible physical application of force by the police, as well as the extent of the force applied. The audio recording clearly captures the use of the CEWs. However, apart from the use of the riot shield, it does not provide evidence of any further physical strikes by the police. Moreover, none of the witnesses interviewed recounted physical strikes by the police officers.
“There are also competing plausible explanations for how Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez sustained his injuries, which are not indicative of excessive force. They include the shield strike, Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez falling backwards into the bathtub and the possibility of self-infliction during the lengthy period of time he spent destroying the bathroom. It is also documented that Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez exhibited disseminated intravascular coagulation while in the Intensive Care Unit. That condition is a relevant consideration when evaluating the apparent extent of Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez’s injuries.”
Director Loparco concluded, “Ultimately, there exists no evidentiary basis that allows me to attribute either the injuries or the death of Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez to the use of excessive force by the police. There are thus no reasonable grounds to believe that an offence has been committed, and no charges will issue.”
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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Monica Hudon, 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