SIU Concludes Investigation into Death of Sarnia Man
Case Number: 07-OFD-049
Other News Releases Related to Case 07-OFD-049
The SIU assigned seven investigators, three forensic identification technicians and an accident reconstructionist to probe the circumstances of this incident. During the course of the investigation one officer was designated as a subject officer and six officers were designated as witness officers. Investigators canvassed the area where the incident occurred to identify other potential witnesses within the community. In total, sixty-eight civilian witnesses were interviewed. Evidence was also examined at the Centre of Forensic Science (CFS) in Toronto and numerous experts were consulted in an effort to analyze the physical evidence collected.
The SIU investigation determined that in the early morning hours of March 7, 2007, Mr. Douglas escaped from the Psychiatric Ward at Bluewater Health Services hospital. He broke into a residence on George Street while the homeowner was there. The homeowner said Mr. Douglas appeared to be confused. The homeowner called the SPS when Mr. Douglas asked him for help.
Several SPS officers responded and attempted to apprehend Mr. Douglas peacefully. Mr. Douglas was not responsive and when one of the officers reached out to grab his arm it triggered a violent reaction from Mr. Douglas and a physical struggle ensued. Mr. Douglas was pepper sprayed in the face, but it had no effect. Another of the officers used a knee strike, but this too failed to subdue Mr. Douglas. During the struggle, Mr. Douglas injured at least one of the officers. Mr. Douglas eventually broke free and fled down a flight of stairs into the basement of the home. The officers followed him downstairs, but quickly retreated when they saw that Mr. Douglas had armed himself with a golf club and was swinging it in their direction.
What followed was a standoff of some three to four hours, during which time members of the Emergency Response Team (ERT) entered the house. The ERT leader ventured downstairs at an early point in the standoff with intentions of possibly using his Taser to take Mr. Douglas into custody. That plan, however, failed when he was struck in the leg by the golf club swung by Mr. Douglas. The officer was forced to withdraw back to the main floor. Negotiations followed during which the police used a variety of tactics in an effort to have Mr. Douglas peacefully surrender. Mr. Douglas' father (who was initially not allowed to speak with his son at the scene) was brought back to the house to speak to his son, as was a mental health worker. These efforts were unsuccessful in ending the standoff. Mr. Douglas remained unresponsive, but armed throughout with a golf club, which he held in a threatening posture.
At around 0800 hours, much to the officers' surprise, Mr. Douglas pried open and then squeezed through a basement window and made his way outside. The officers had been led to believe the window was nailed shut. No security perimeter had been established around the home.
Mr. Douglas' escape was quickly noticed and a number of ERT officers chased after him. Mr. Douglas ran south towards Bright Street with the subject officer and others in pursuit. It was during this foot chase that an ERT officer fired his Taser at Mr. Douglas, but missed his target. Mr. Douglas spotted a van idling in the driveway on Bright Street and ran towards it. He managed to enter the van through the driver's door, despite being challenged by a resident at that address. Just then the subject officer arrived at the driver's side door.
The subject officer grabbed onto Mr. Douglas and attempted to forcibly remove him through the open driver's door. Another officer arrived shortly thereafter, and joined in the struggle. Mr. Douglas resisted strenuously and eventually managed to place the van in reverse and drive down the driveway. The second officer attempted to get out of the way of the open door as the van reversed, but was sent spinning when the door struck his right leg. As the van continued to reverse, the second officer saw the subject officer's feet dragging alongside the vicinity of the driver's door.
As the van initially started its rearward movement down the driveway, the subject officer found himself jammed between the door and the van. He was hanging onto Mr. Douglas with half his body being dragged outside of and alongside the vehicle. As the van picked up speed, the subject officer felt his legs dragging under the vehicle. Believing he might be run over and killed, the subject officer feared for his life at this point and hung onto Mr. Douglas with all his might. The subject officer was unable to maintain his grip, however, as the van entered onto the roadway and began to spin. The subject officer fell onto the road being narrowly missed by the van as it continued to spin. Although the subject officer felt disoriented, he scrambled to his feet fearing the spinning van might yet run him over. As he was getting to his feet, the subject officer saw the van turned in his direction and coming "on an angle" towards him. Believing that his life was in danger he made the decision to shoot the driver. The subject officer drew his firearm and shot twice at Mr. Douglas while stepping backwards away from the van. The van turned away from him and continued east down Bright Street.
The investigation determined that the subject officer believed it necessary to shoot Mr. Douglas to thwart a reasonably perceived lethal threat. The forensic evidence, including tire marks, glass particles, ballistic reconstruction and shell casings that were left at the scene, as well as the weight of the eyewitness accounts, supported the subject officer's description of how this incident unfolded.
Director Cornish said, "In these circumstances, I am satisfied that a reasonable person in the officer's position, faced with a demonstrably violent Mr. Douglas, having just been thrown from the van and almost struck by it, in close proximity to the van as it moved forward and with only a split second to identify the threat, decide what action to take and then take that action, would have believed it necessary to shoot Mr. Douglas."
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.