The province’s police watchdog has cleared a Peel Regional Police officer in the death of an elderly man who fell down the stairs as he was being arrested in Mississauga last year.
Joseph Martino, the director of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), said while the 88-year-old’s death was tragic, his fatal injuries were not caused by any unlawful conduct on the part of the officer.
The incident happened last year, in the afternoon on Sept. 13, at a home in the Dundas Street East and Cawthra Road area in Mississauga.
An officer with the Crisis Outreach and Support Team (COAST), a Canadian Mental Health Association COAST member and a Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) Behaviour Support Ontario (BSO) nurse) went to the elderly man’s home to apprehend him under the Mental Health Act.
The senior was outside of his home in an “agitated state,” the SIU said, but an officer was able to de-escalate the matter and get him back into the residence.
The SIU noted the elderly man, referred to as the complainant in the report, had been in a “cognitive decline and behaving strangely,” and his wife was looking to have him examined at a hospital.
When the complainant answered the subject official’s (SO) knock on the front door, the SIU said he was only wearing his boxers and slippers as he went out to speak with the officer. The SO tried to convince him to go back inside since it was cool outside and did not want to attract attention from the neighbours.
The complainant, however, shouted at the SO and pointed his finger at the officer’s face in response, which is when the officer. The SO decided to arrest him under the Mental Health Act, and told the senior he was being apprehended to see a doctor – something he objected to.
The SO grabbed the complainant’s right hand, but he pulled back, and both tugged at each other for a while before getting onto the landing inside the front door. The officer was still holding the complainant as he was being jerked toward the staircase leading to the basement, the SIU said.
“He came outside. We tried to get him inside. He tried to pull away and fell down the stairs,” the SO said in body-worn camera footage, reviewed by the SIU.
“I was placing him under apprehension and that’s when he just started screaming. Pulling away. And I couldn’t hold on to him any longer and that’s when he went down the stairs backwards.”
In an over four-minute call, a COAST member called 911 for help, noting a visit “escalated” and they needed support. The SO dispatched that the complainant was bleeding from his head.
The officer went down to the basement to provide him first-aid, and firefighters and paramedics arrived at the scene. The complainant repeatedly asked for cold water to be poured onto him, telling a paramedic he couldn’t move his legs.
“I’m paralyzed,” he said, though he could wiggle his toes.
Minutes later, a responding firefighter saw the complainant’s head and arms had gone limp, and he stopped speaking. The complainant was carried up the stairs and secured on a gurney before being transported to the hospital.
On Sept. 25, the complainant died.
At the start of the investigation, the SIU had to determine if the man’s death was due to the injuries he sustained when he fell down to the stairs or caused by some other factor during his approximate two-week stay at the hospital. After speaking with the Investigating Coroner, who familiarized himself with the man’s medical records, it was determined his death was likely caused by his fall down the stairs.
Preliminary autopsy results concluded the complainant’s death was caused by “blunt injuries.”
“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 fall and his subsequent death,” Martino wrote, citing section 25(1) of the Criminal Code that exempts officers for force used in their line of duty that was reasonably necessary.
“With respect to the Complainant’s apprehension under the Mental Health Act, I am unable to reasonably conclude that it was unlawful.”
Further, Martino said he did not believe there is any reliable evidence that the officer pushed the complainant down the stairs, since the allegation was made by the senior who was “of unsound mind” at the time of the incident and civilian eyewitnesses observed him attempting to pull away from the SO.
“The remainder of the evidence instead suggests the force used initially consisted of nothing more than the SO taking hold of the Complainant’s right hand, which was entirely reasonable,” Martino said.
“He cautioned him verbally to desist and then struggled to maintain a grip on the Complainant as he vigorously persisted in pulling backwards towards the stairs.”
Martino also noted the SO did not hit the complainant, adding he was satisfied by how the SO conducted himself.
“In the result, while it is tragic that the Complainant fell down the stairs, suffering injuries that would eventually culminate in his death, his injuries were not the result of any unlawful conduct on the part of the SO.”