Ontario’s police watchdog has cleared a Peterborough police officer of any wrongdoing in connection with a stand-off at a car dealership in August that ended in the death of a 28-year-old man.
The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) — an independent government agency that investigates the conduct of police officers that may have resulted in death, serious injury, sexual assault, or discharge of a firearm at a person — issued its report into the incident on Friday (December 8).
The SIU interviewed the police officer who was the subject of the investigation, six civilian witnesses, and five witness officials, including a fellow police officer who arrived at the scene. The SIU also reviewed memo books from witness officials, evidence at the scene, and photographic, audio, and video evidence, including in-car camera footage from the subject officer’s cruiser.
According to the SIU report, at 2:15 p.m. on August 11, 2023, a police officer was travelling in his cruiser in the area of Park Street North and Parkhill Road West when he was forced to quickly react as a Jeep Cherokee abruptly reversed out of a driveway.
The officer decided to stop the Jeep for a traffic infraction and, when the vehicle failed to stop, he began a pursuit. The officer chased the Jeep, which ran a red light before eventually making its way onto northbound Chemong Road. The officer followed for a period, but then discontinued pursuit in the area of Bellevue Street.
The 28-year-old man driving the Jeep, who was later determined to be suffering from mental illness and having an acute episode at the time of the incident, lost control of the Jeep at Chemong Road and Towerhill Road and crashed into a pole at the northwest corner of the intersection. He emerged from the vehicle holding a firearm and held up a taxi at gunpoint before making his way in the service garage of the nearby Peterborough Volkswagen dealership.
Frustrated when he was unable to obtain keys for one of the vehicles under repair, the man struck an employee of the dealership in the back of the head with the gun and was holding the employee at gunpoint by the southwest corner of the garage when the police officer arrived in his cruiser.
On hearing broadcasts of 911 calls reporting a motorist emerging with a gun from a crashed vehicle, the officer had made his way to Chemong Road and Towerline Road where he was directed by civilians to the dealership.
The officer drove his cruiser a short distance into the garage through the west bay door, exited, and confronted the man at gunpoint. The time was 2:18 p.m. The officer ordered the man to drop the gun he was holding to the head of the employee. Although the man released the employee, who fled from the garage, he refused to drop the gun. Instead, he turned the gun on himself, pointing it under his own chin, and repeatedly asked the officer to shoot him.
The officer replied that he was not going to shoot the man, but wanted him to drop the gun so they could talk. As the stand-off continued over the next several minutes, the man sprayed and poured the contents of various automotive fluids from containers on nearby benches before drinking from them. It was later determined the man had ingested antifreeze, engine coolant, and motor oil.
At this point, a second officer armed with a C8 rifle had arrived at the scene and, along with the first officer, implored the man to drop the gun and refrain from drinking from the containers.
At around 2:24 p.m., not more than six minutes from when the first officer had arrived on scene, the man collapsed and dropped his firearm. Officers moved in, secured the weapon, and handcuffed the man. Realizing that he was in medical distress and having seizures, they rolled the man into the recovery position, removed the handcuffs, and administered CPR until the arrival of firefighters and paramedics.
The man was transported to Peterborough Regional Health Centre and pronounced dead at 3:32 p.m. The pathologist who later conducted an autopsy on the man was unable to arrive at a preliminary cause of death.
“On my assessment of the evidence, there are no reasonable grounds to believe that the SO (subject officer) committed a criminal offence in connection with the Complainant’s death,” writes SIU director Joseph Martino in the report. “The question is whether there was any want of care on the part of the SO, sufficiently serious to attract criminal sanction, that endangered the Complainant’s life or contributed to his death. In my view, there was not.”
“The SO was lawfully placed when he confronted the Complainant in the dealership garage,” Martino continues. “He had cause to believe that the Complainant had fled from the site of a crash into the dealership armed with a gun, and he was duty-bound to attend the scene to ensure public safety. Once in the garage, and seeing him holding (the employee) at gunpoint, the officer also had grounds to arrest the Complainant for a variety of offences.”
Martino adds the officer showed “due care and regard for public safety” during the incident, including concern for the man’s safety.
“From a distance of several metres, behind the front driver side of his cruiser, the SO did what he could to de-escalate the situation. Though the Complainant was in possession of a gun, which he could have discharged at the officer at any moment, the SO held his fire and tried to talk him down.”
Martino says the officer could not have withdrawn from the scene, as the man “had already shown a propensity for violence” and the officer could not be sure other people in the vicinity would not be endangered.
“Similarly, the use of a conducted energy weapon or pepper spray were not reasonable options for a variety of reasons, including the SO’s distance from the Complainant and the location of a vehicle between them, the presence of flammable materials in the area, and the officer’s vulnerability to return gunfire in the event those weapons did not work.”
Martino adds that, once the man had collapsed, officers moved in quickly to render emergency first-aid.
“There are no reasonable grounds to conclude that the SO conducted himself other than within the limits of the criminal law in his dealings with the Complainant, there is no basis for proceeding with criminal charges in this case,” Martino concludes. “The file is closed.”