The Director of the Special Investigations Unit, Tony Loparco, has determined there are no reasonable grounds to lay criminal charges against a Sault Ste. Marie police officer in relation to the injuries sustained by a 54-year-old man in March of 2016.
Three investigators were assigned to this incident. The SIU interviewed 10 civilian witnesses and 12 witness officers. The subject officer participated in an SIU interview and provided a copy of his duty notes.
The Unit’s investigation also included a review of the arrest report, police communications tapes and booking video.
The SIU investigation found the following:
- In the evening hours of March 26, 2016, police officers with the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service attended a residence in response to a domestic situation.
- Upon entering, the officers saw broken glass and blood on the floor, appliances were damaged and there were various items strewn about. The officers found the 54-year-old man sitting on the living room floor with his back leaned up against a couch. There was a coffee table in front of him with crushed beer cans beneath it. The man got up and sat himself on the couch. He proceeded to verbally berate the officers and demanded they get out of his house. The man’s speech was slurred and he had the odour of an alcoholic beverage coming from his mouth. The subject officer concluded that the man was intoxicated, and was in breach of the recognizance that prohibited him from consuming alcohol.
- The subject officer advised the man that he was placing him under arrest for the offence of fail to comply with recognizance and instructed him to stand up, turn around and put his hands behind his back. The man’s response was to stand up and walk away from the officer. The subject officer took hold of the man’s left arm, but the man pulled away from him. The subject officer then pushed the man towards the couch, and forced him onto the cushions. The man landed face first on the couch, and the subject officer pressed one of his knees onto the man’s back in order to control him. He attempted to gain control of the man’s hands in order to handcuff him, but the man’s hands were tucked beneath his body. The subject officer instructed the man several times to put his hands behind his back. The man, however, did not comply with the direction and struggled against the officer. As the man persisted in his struggle, the subject officer cautioned him at least twice to stop resisting. The man continued to struggle and curse. Approximately 15 seconds after cautioning the man, the subject officer delivered a single punch to the man’s left side just below the armpit. After being punched, the man rolled over on the couch and the officers were able to handcuff him. The man continued to resist by kicking and squirming but eventually stopped fighting against the officers.
- After the man was taken into custody, he complained of pain in his ribs. The police contacted paramedics to attend the station and assess the man. Tests later concluded the man had sustained rib fractures. The medical evidence disclosed that these fractures eventually rubbed against and perforated the man’s left lung. This resulted in the release of air into his chest cavity, which in turn led to severe swelling in his chest, neck and face, a condition known as subcutaneous emphysema. The resulting stress placed on his body, in combination with taxing medications, led to the rupture of a pre-existing gastrointestinal ulcer. That rupture and internal bleeding caused sepsis that necessitated the man be put into a medically induced coma.
Director Loparco said, “The subject officer was clearly acting in the course of his duties when he entered the home and placed the man under arrest. He was responding to a serious 911 call regarding a domestic situation. The officer had apprised himself of the terms of the man’s recognizance prior to entering the home, and was plainly faced with clear evidence of the man having consumed alcohol. As such, he placed him under arrest for the offence of breach of recognizance. Given that the officer was effecting a lawful arrest, the only issue that I need to consider is whether the force employed went beyond what was required in the circumstances.
“The evidence does not provide me with reasonable grounds to believe that excessive force was used in the circumstances. All of the subject officer’s actions were directed towards effecting a lawful arrest and gaining control of the man. He provided multiple verbal instructions to the man, but they were ignored. He afforded the man an opportunity to surrender his hands, but the man while continuing to be physically resistive declined to do so. He cautioned the man that he would be struck if he continued to resist, yet the man persisted in his actions. Once the single strike was delivered, no other force was employed. The strike was delivered so that the officers could gain control of the man and handcuff him, and that end was achieved. My conclusion is that the force was both necessary and reasonable in the circumstances. Consequently, the subject officer’s actions cannot be considered to be excessive and as a result no charges will issue.”
Director Loparco added, “The rib fracture is almost certainly attributable to the strike delivered by the subject officer. It was the catalyst that set into motion a series of medical complications of increasing severity. The serious medical issues encountered by the man have had no bearing on my excessive force analysis set out above. The punch to the ribs was necessary and reasonable in the circumstances, and the resulting medical complications, while very unfortunate, are all subject to the conclusion that the force employed was justified.”
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.