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SIU clears two Niagara police officers who shot knife-wielding man 17 times, killing him

Ontario’s police watchdog has cleared two Niagara Regional Police officers in the death of a man who they shot 17 times as he charged at them with a knife.

The incident happened late evening on Oct. 23, 2023, at a home in the area of Arthur Street and Cindy Drive in St. Catharines, Ont.

At around 9 p.m., Niagara police were called to the home to investigate family violence. According to the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the 48-year-old man, known as the complainant in the report, became violent and threatened to harm his family. The SIU said he picked up a small kitchen-style knife, and attacked one of his family members with it.

That prompted one family member to call the police, the SIU said.

“If they catch me on the phone, he’ll kill me,” she was heard saying on her 9-1-1 call, which was included in the SIU report released Friday.

According to the report, she ran outside the home and hid behind a vehicle on their driveway as she waited for police to arrive. Meanwhile, the other family members stayed inside trying to contain the complainant.

Seconds after police arrived, at 9:17 p.m., the complainant walked out the front door and charged at the officers with a knife in his left hand, the SIU said.

Police told him to show his hands before they fired “a barrage of gunshots,” the report stated. A total of 17 shots were fired – with evidence from their Glock 22 pistols suggesting one officer possibly shot eight, the other nine. The complainant face-planted onto the lawn and dropped the knife.

The attending officers, called subject officials one and two in the report, radioed that shots had been fired before handcuffing the complainant and rendering first aid. Shortly after 9:50 p.m., the complainant was pronounced deceased.

The autopsy’s preliminary view determined the complainant’s death was caused by the multiple gunshot wounds in his torso.

“On my assessment of the evidence, there are no reasonable grounds to believe that either subject official committed a criminal offence in connection with the Complainant’s death,” SIU Director Joseph Martino wrote in the report.

He said one of the subject officials who agreed to be interviewed for the investigation informed the SIU that they discharged their firearms not only in self-defence, but in defence of each other.

“The circumstances compel the conclusion – the officers had only just arrived on scene when they were confronted by an angry Complainant brandishing a knife and advancing on them quickly,” Martino said, adding that they faced a “lethal threat.”

“The Complainant was armed with a knife, a weapon capable of inflicting grievous bodily harm and death, which he had wielded against his family and was now threatening to use against the officers. And they only had fractions of a second to defend themselves from the Complainant.”

Martino said the officers did not have a chance to retreat or discharge other weapons, like a Taser, given the mere seconds police had to react and that their firearms were their “best chance” to incapacitate the complainant.

“The number of shots fired by the officers is subject to legitimate scrutiny, particularly as it appears that about half of them occurred after the Complainant had fallen,” Martino wrote, pointing out that it is important to note they fired all rounds in a two-and-a-half second timeframe due to the tension and threat confronting the officers.

As a result, Martino said he could not conclude that either officer “acted with excess in connection with the totality of their gunfire when they chose to meet a threat of imminent death with a resort to lethal force of their own.”

Though Martino calls the complainant’s death tragic, he said there is no basis for criminal charges for either officer and closed the file.