THUNDER BAY – NEWS – The Director of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), Tony Loparco, has concluded that there are no reasonable grounds to charge any officer with the Thunder Bay Police Service (TBPS) with a criminal offence in relation to the death of a 38-year-old man in August of 2014.
The SIU assigned four investigators to probe the circumstances of this incident. As part of the investigation, five witness officers and one civilian witness were interviewed. The subject officer did not participate in an SIU interview and declined to provide a copy of his duty notes, as is his legal right.
The SIU investigation found that the following events took place on Monday, August 11, 2014:
- At approximately 7:30 a.m., police received a call regarding a suspicious vehicle parked outside a residence on Wharton Road. It had been there since at least 3:45 a.m.
- A mass of police officers, including officers with the TBPS Emergency Task Unit (ETU) and the OPP Emergency Response Team, quickly converged on the scene. The vehicle – a Chrysler 300 sedan – matched the description of the vehicle of a suspect who, hours earlier, had reportedly assaulted a woman and killed her eight-year-old daughter.
- Police officers surrounded the vehicle and attempted to negotiate with the man for several hours.
- At about 11:30 a.m., the order was given to assault the man’s vehicle. He had rolled down his door window, at which point he was seen bleeding from the neck. Three distraction devices were deployed as the assault team rushed the car. One of the police officers smashed out the rear driver’s side door window and confirmed the man was alone in the vehicle. Other police officers took hold of the man’s arms and pulled him out. The man offered little resistance. He had self-inflicted cuts to his wrists, arms and neck, and was bleeding profusely. His arms were handcuffed behind his back and first aid was rendered.
- The man was taken to hospital but died while in surgery.
- A bloodied fish filet knife was found on the front passenger seat of the vehicle.
Director Loparco said, “The police were right to exercise extreme caution as they set up around the man’s vehicle. It was their information at the time that the man had perpetrated a gruesome crime in the apartment of his estranged girlfriend, assaulting her and killing her eight-year-old daughter at about 3 a.m. It was raining at the time and the windows on the man’s vehicle were fogged, preventing the officers from seeing clearly into the vehicle. At first, they could not be certain if anyone was in the vehicle. Thereafter, when the man began to honk the horn in response to questions from officers, they could not be sure if anyone else was in the vehicle. Moreover, the officers had reason to believe that the man had a gun; when asked to honk his horn if he had a firearm, the man did so. As it happens, the man did not in fact have a gun (although he did have a knife), but the officers were in no position to doubt the fact that he was armed and dangerous.
“Under the subject officer’s command, the officers took steps to ensure the safety of those in the area, as well as their own safety. They took up positions at a distance from the vehicle in ditches and the surrounding bush from where they monitored the vehicle. A large ETU truck was brought to the scene and positioned across the road to serve as additional cover for the officers and to block the man’s vehicle should he attempt to escape. The residents in the area were advised to leave their homes or take cover. Throughout, the officers remained mindful of the man’s well-being as well, ensuring that paramedics were close at hand to treat him should the need arise.”
Director Loparco continued, “A perimeter established and the scene secured, the officers turned their attention to communicating with the man in an effort to persuade him to surrender peacefully. Over the course of two hours, the officers encouraged him to leave the vehicle and surrender. He did not do so.
“As the standoff continued, the subject officer and other senior officers at the scene began to consider their tactical options for bringing the matter to an end. They decided that the ETU would blitz the vehicle and extricate the man if there was reason to believe injury had occurred or was imminent. The man had previously been flagged for being at risk for suicide, a fact the officers could not ignore.”
Director Loparco concluded, “It is evident on these facts that the officers involved in the operation leading to the man’s arrest acted lawfully and reasonably throughout. Cognizant of their foremost duty to protect and preserve life, they acted quickly and prudently to ensure the safety of the residents in the area and the travelling public. Their duty to public safety included apprehending the man, principally, to prevent him from harming others, but also to prevent him from harming himself. I am satisfied that the officers discharged their duty on both fronts as reasonably as circumstances permitted. Given what they knew and, as importantly, what they did not know, it would have been imprudent to rush the man’s vehicle any sooner. He had demonstrated a propensity for inflicting serious harm and might well have been armed. The balance of those considerations tipped when it became apparent that the man was grievously wounded and a lesser threat, leading to the decision to assault the vehicle and effect the arrest. I see nothing in that decision, nor in the conduct of the officers that executed the takedown, with which to take 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.