SIU clears police in 2021 Campbell apartment investigation

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The Special Investigations Unit is on scene of the Campbell apartment buildings, January 24, 2021 (Dan Gray/SaultOnline.com)

At 7:27 p.m. January 23, 2021, Sault Ste. Marie Police attended 275 Albert Street East the Campbell apartments for a complaint of an agitated man in the lobby of the building.

By 8:10 p.m. paramedics had taken control of the scene and by 8:25 p.m. the Special Investigations Unit had been notified. 16 months later a full report was filed by the director of the SIU.

Those 57 minutes are filled with weapons, desperate attempts to save a life and ultimately the death of an individual they have identified as the complainant in the report.

We have chosen to bring you the incident narrative provided by SIU Director Joseph Martino, other highlights and the final decision, the full report can be seen here.

WARNING – NARRATIVE INCLUDES GRAPHIC DETAILS OF THE EVENT

What happened(SO= Subject officer, WO= Witness Officer, CEW- Conducted Energy Weapon (Taser))

The following scenario emerges from the evidence collected by the SIU, which included interviews with several police officers present throughout the incident and video footage that captured the events in question. As was his legal right, the SO chose not to interview with the SIU or authorize the release of his notes.

Images provided by the SIU in their public report- Ontario Special Investigations Unit

In the evening of January 23, 2021, officers, including the SO, were dispatched to the apartment building at 275 Albert Street, Sault Ste. Marie. They were sent following a call to police from the building manager reporting an unwanted male in the building lobby – the Complainant. The Complainant had been asked to leave but refused to do so. He had also been seen running from the building lobby onto Albert Street at the approach of public transit buses, on which occasions he would position himself in front of the buses on the roadway.

The SO and his partner, WO #4, were the first on scene, arriving at about 7:40 p.m. They were followed quickly by WO #6 and WO #8. The officers encountered the Complainant inside the vestibule of the building – an enclosed area between the front exterior glass doors and a single interior glass door to the lobby. The SO spoke with the Complainant and asked what the officers could do to help him.

Images provided by the SIU in their public report- Ontario Special Investigations Unit

The Complainant explained that he was making his way to Pauline’s Place – a provider of emergency and short-term housing. He held a cell phone in his left hand, and kept his right hand inside his coat pocket. Asked to show his right hand, the Complainant declined and explained that his right arm was broken. The Complainant refused to leave the vestibule with the officers, and questioned whether they were in fact police officers.

After approximately ten minutes of conversation, the blade of a knife became apparent inside the left front pocket of the Complainant’s coat. By this time, the officers had been advised via their dispatch that the Complainant was subject to a probation order term that he refrain from possessing knives. The SO advised the Complainant that he was under arrest. The Complainant did not surrender to arrest.

Images provided by the SIU in their public report- Ontario Special Investigations Unit

The SO removed himself from the interior of the vestibule to position himself at the threshold of an open exterior glass door. He had his CEW drawn. Standing behind him holding his sidearm was WO #8. Additional officers arrived on scene, including WO #2, WO #3, and WO #1. WO #2 occupied the threshold of the other exterior glass door, which had also been opened, his CEW out. WO #1, from a position outside near one of the exterior doors, took the lead in speaking with the Complainant. Efforts continued to persuade the Complainant to disarm himself and show his right hand. He continued to refuse.

At about 8:04 p.m., the SOWO #2 and WO #3 deployed their CEWs at the Complainant. The Complainant screamed in pain. As the Complainant fell to the ground, his right hand came out of his pocket holding a knife, which he used to cut across the front of his neck. Officers moved in to physically engage the Complainant. The Complainant struggled against the officers as they tried to handcuff him and treat his injuries. WO #8 deployed his CEW as he attempted to control the Complainant’s legs.

Officers rendered first-aid to the Complainant, including the administration of CPR, pending the arrival of paramedics at the scene.

The Complainant was taken to hospital in ambulance. He was declared deceased at about 8:41 p.m.

Other Highlights of the report-

  • 4 CEW’s were deployed for a total of 56 seconds, all after it was apparent the complainant had a knife in his possession.
  • According to a video on the complainants Facebook Page – the Complainant rode a bus and attended a men’s shelter shortly before 6:00 p.m. The Complainant spoke to an attendant, who told the Complainant that he appeared to be acting paranoid. The Complainant told the attendant that he had been followed all day by someone.
  • The pathologist at autopsy concluded that the Complainant’s death was attributable to ‘stab wound of right neck’.
  •  “Though the CEW discharges did not completely incapacitate the Complainant, who was able to lift his right hand with a knife in it and use it to inflict lethal injury, the use of the CEWs carried with it a reasonable prospect of neutralizing the Complainant from a safe distance,” Director Moreno.


The Directors Decision and Analysis-

The Complainant passed away on January 23, 2021, of a self-inflicted knife wound. As he was engaged with SSMPS police officers at the time of the injury, the SIU was notified and initiated an investigation. One of the officers – the SO – was identified as the subject official. The investigation is now concluded. On my assessment of the evidence, there are no reasonable grounds to believe that the SO committed a criminal offence in connection with the Complainant’s death.

Pursuant to section 25(1) of the Criminal Code, police officers are immune from criminal liability for force used in the course of their duties provided such force was reasonably necessary in the execution of an act that they were required or authorized to do by law.

The Special Investigations Unit is on scene of the Campbell apartment buildings, January 24, 2021 (Dan Gray/SaultOnline.com)

The officers who engaged with the Complainant at 275 Albert Street East, including the SO, were lawfully placed at all times. Having received reports of a male refusing to leave private premises, they were within their rights in attending at the address to deal with a possible trespass. Once there and aware that the Complainant was in possession of a knife, in apparent violation of a probation order, the officers also had grounds to take the Complainant into custody.

The force used by the SO and other officers, namely, multiple CEW discharges, was legally justified. The officers had reason to be concerned that the Complainant constituted a threat to himself and others. In a previous and recent engagement with SSMPS officers, the Complainant had similarly armed himself with a knife and used it to cut himself. They were also aware that the Complainant was paranoid – in the course of his dialogue with the officers, he questioned whether they were actually police offices, mentioned that people were seeking to murder him, and explained that a piece of tinfoil on his head was meant to prevent others from intercepting his thoughts. And residents of the building had gathered in the lobby to see what was happening, some of whom were screamed at by the Complainant, increasingly causing the officers concern about the public’s safety. On this record, I am unable to fault the officers, reportedly acting on the instructions of WO #1, when they discharged their CEWs as the Complainant turned his back to them. Though the CEW discharges did not completely incapacitate the Complainant, who was able to lift his right hand with a knife in it and use it to inflict lethal injury, the use of the CEWs carried with it a reasonable prospect of neutralizing the Complainant from a safe distance.

Nor does there appear to have been any want of care on the part of the officers in the manner in which they comported themselves prior to the CEW discharges, such as might attract liability for criminal negligence causing death contrary to section 220 of the Criminal Code. The offence is reserved for serious of cases of neglect that demonstrate a wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons. It is not made out, inter alia, unless the impugned conduct constitutes a marked and substantial departure from the level of care that a reasonable person would have exercised in the circumstances. In the instant case, there is no indication that the officers ran afoul of the limits of care prescribed by the criminal law. The evidence suggests that they spoke to the Complainant in reasonable terms, and tried to assist him with his travel plans for the evening. It is true that they quickly ascertained that the Complainant might be labouring under mental illness, raising the question as to why the service’s Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team [3] was not deployed. It seems that some of the officers gave thought to this contingency, but decided, reasonably in my view, that it was not a realistic option given the presence of a weapon in the Complainant’s possession.

In the result, as there are no reasonable grounds to believe that the SO, or any of the other involved officers, committed a criminal offence in connection with the Complainant’s self-inflicted knife wound and death, there is no basis for proceeding with criminal charges in this case. The file is closed.

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