No charges for OPP officer in incident that partially blinded man
The SIU said there are “no reasonable grounds” to charge police officer involved in a Taser incident that left a Pikangikum First Nation man blind in one eye.
An OPP officer shoots a man in the face with a Taser. It takes more than three years for the province’s police watchdog to find out. When it does investigate, the man can’t remember what happened and the cop won’t agree to an interview or share his notes.
So, case closed.
That’s the result of a probe by the Special Investigations Unit, which announced Tuesday that there just isn’t enough evidence to support charges over the incident, in a remote indigenous community in 2012, that left the unnamed man blind in one eye.
“While it is of course the officer’s prerogative to refrain from providing any information to this Unit, the end result is that I have no insight into his assessment of the circumstances or his thought process,” said SIU director Tony Loparco in a statement.
“I simply cannot determine, with any degree of confidence, what happened between the subject officer and the man.”
The case is a prime example of why stronger measures are needed to compel police to co-operate with the province’s civilian oversight agency, said criminal defence lawyer Reid Rusonik. The SIU is mandated to investigate incidents involving police when someone is killed or seriously injured, or sexual assault is alleged.
“You get a job with all of that power, why shouldn’t you have to account for its use, even if it exposes you to criminal charges? That should be a deterrent in place to keep you from abusing that power,” Rusonik said.
The SIU has been under fire in recent weeks for a lack of transparency and effectiveness. The agency does not release the names of officers who are subject to investigations and only one report on its oversight inquiries has been made public since its creation in 1990.
Last month, the attorney general released nine of 34 pages of the SIU’s report on the death of Andrew Loku, a 45-year-old father from South Sudan who was shot and killed by a Toronto police officer last July. The attorney general and SIU consider the reports confidential for privacy reasons, while the province’s information and privacy commissioner has said there can be circumstances of “significant public interest” when the SIU may disclose the name or other information associated with completed investigations.
Calls remain for more transparency and reform as a panel headed by Court of Appeal Justice Michael Tulloch has been tasked with reviewing the province’s police oversight regime.
According to Tuesday’s news release by the SIU, in June 2012, an OPP officer responded to a call about an “out of control man” at a home in Pikangikum First Nation, an Ojibwa community in northwestern Ontario. Inside, there was an “interaction” between the man and the police officer, and the officer fired his conductive energy weapon, also known as a Taser, according to the release.
One of the weapon’s prongs got lodged near the man’s left eye.
Three more officers arrived at that point and helped subdue the man, according to the SIU statement. The man was bleeding from his face and taken to hospital.
The SIU says it wasn’t informed of this until July 2015, after the man’s father went to the OPP and told them his son “lost sight in one eye as a result” of the Taser incident. An SIU spokesman, Jason Gennaro, told the Star in an email the OPP flagged the incident to the oversight agency, which “immediately” assigned investigators to find out what happened.
They interviewed the other officers and three civilians, but didn’t learn enough about the incident, the SIU statement says. Medical records showed the man returned to a nursing station in Pikangikum the next day “with pain and swelling to his eye,” and later travelled to Winnipeg for detached retina surgery.
The SIU investigators also reviewed the Taser maintenance records and the OPP’s use-of-force protocols, Gennaro said.
The SIU will not release the man’s name, he said, because it has not obtained his consent.
Criminal defence lawyer Roy Wellington said the Pikangikum incident brings up questions about the definition of “serious injury” in the SIU’s mandate — not to mention questions about why it took more than three years for the SIU to start an investigation. By law, police are required to call in the oversight body when a civilian sustains a “serious injury” in an interaction with police.
“This result is very, very troubling,” Wellington said. “If someone is shot in the face with a Taser, and he’s bleeding from his face, and they have to take him to hospital, that is clearly serious.”
Sgt. Peter Leon, a spokesman for the OPP, said the police service is legally bound to “immediately” notify the SIU when its mandate applies, but he declined to say why that didn’t happen right away in the Pikangikum case.
He also wouldn’t say exactly when the OPP learned that the Pikangikum man lost sight in one eye. Leon directed all questions to the SIU, stating that OPP protocol prevents officers from speaking about an incident probed by the SIU, even after the SIU completes an investigation. (The Police Services Act restricts the release of such information “during the course of an investigation.”)
Rusonik, meanwhile, said it would be a mistake to lay charges without sufficient evidence, and that officers, like other Canadians, have the constitutional right to remain silent in the face of an investigation.
But when it comes to police oversight, he argued, an exception should be made in the name of “greater societal interest” (under Section 1 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms) so that police are compelled to co-operate and share their version of events.
“It’s a necessary trade-off,” he said. “They have no reason to fear a responsible use of force.”
Lawrence Gridin, a lawyer who represents police officers in Toronto, said cops are given the same rights as everyone else under Canada’s constitution, which also trumps provincial laws such as the Police Services Act. That means any statements officers were forced to provide would not be admissible during a future trial, Gridin said.
“Unless we are going to seriously discuss removing the right to silence from the constitution, there is really no sense debating the issue of whether officers should be compelled to speak to the SIU,” he said.
With files from Robert Benzie, Wendy Gillis and Jacques Gallanthttps://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2016/0 ... d-man.html