SIU director finds ‘no basis’ for criminal charges against Wellington OPP officer

Wellington OPP officer punched a 43-year-old man in the face multiple times during spring arrest in downtown Fergus

MISSISSAUGA – The province’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) has found no grounds to criminally charge a Wellington OPP officer in connection to a man’s injuries following another incident involving officers punching and seriously injuring a person.

SIU director Joseph Martino concluded last month there were no grounds for criminal charges against Wellington OPP officers involved in the pursuit and subsequent forceful arrest of a 43-year-old man who was punched and kneed multiple times by OPP officers.

The latest SIU investigation involving Wellington OPP, disclosed in a Dec. 15 decision, involves at least four officers and the springtime arrest of a 43-year-old man whose leg was broken.

The man later filed a complaint with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), which bills itself as a civilian oversight agency handling complaints about police behaviour.

Although the OIPRD could not provide detachment-level data, a spokesperson told the Advertiser the organization has “129 ongoing investigations against the OPP.”

The SIU’s investigation into the April arrest wasn’t initiated until Aug. 21, four days after the OPP contacted the SIU.

Although the OPP is bound by provincial law to report all serious injuries involving police to the oversight agency, SIU spokesperson Kristy Denette told the Advertiser police weren’t aware the man’s leg had been broken during the arrest until contacted by the OIPRD.

According to Denette, the SIU does not consider injuries from being punched in the face to be serious, unless there is a loss of vision, a fractured bone, or an admission to hospital.

“The incident was reported to the OIPRD by the affected person on July 31, then the OIPRD reported it to the OPP on Aug. 17,” Denette stated in an email.

“The SIU was notified the same day.”

Wellington OPP spokesperson Joshua Cunningham did not immediately respond to the Advertiser‘s request for information.

The arrest

According to a publicly available SIU report, sometime prior to midnight on April 8, OPP officers were on St. Andrew Street West in Fergus.

The exact chronology of events and their context is unclear in the SIU report, which states police were both “investigating a group of individuals” by Templin Gardens and also in downtown Fergus to arrest a woman.

Regardless, a 43-year-old man, who reportedly recognized one of the people police were interested in, “approached the officers and announced that he was recording their conduct,” the report states.

An unnamed officer responded by telling the man he was being arrested for being drunk in public, and proceeded to take the man to the ground.

Three other unnamed officers joined in, the report states, each one “interven[ing] physically.”

“For their part, the officers say that the [man] was grounded after pulling back from the [officer’s] initial efforts to place him under arrest,” Martino wrote in his decision, opining the tactic was “reasonable” to manage the man’s resistance.

Martino wrote the man “flailed” about while on the ground and refused to remove his arms from beneath his body.

An unnamed officer answered that resistance by landing three punches to the man’s face, followed by “an undisclosed quantum of force” by another officer, according to the report. Details about the “undisclosed quantum of force” are not provided.

“Those punches and the grappling … were successful in subduing the [man] so that he could be handcuffed,” Martino wrote, noting no additional force was used after the man was handcuffed.

After being punched, at least several times in his face, and finally being handcuffed, the man was placed in the back of a cruiser.

According to in-car camera footage reviewed by the SIU, the man complained with slurred speech to an officer of being hit in his face and said he would sue.

The report states the man’s right eye was swollen shut, and a cut above his eye was bleeding.

The SIU reviewed medical records from paramedics, Groves Memorial Community Hospital and an unnamed medical clinic.

The man was interviewed by SIU investigators in September, five months after his arrest.

Although the officer who delivered the “undisclosed quantum of force” refused an interview with the SIU, notes were provided and reviewed.

The other three officers interviewed more than six months after the arrest also provided their notes to the SIU.

‘Gratuitous force’

“There is a version of events proffered in the evidence that paints a picture of gratuitous force having been brought to bear on the [man] prior to and after he was handcuffed,” Martino stated.

But the director added “it would be unwise and unsafe” to lay criminal charges “due to frailties in [the] evidence.”

Martino noted the version of events being referred to recalled a single officer delivering force.

“There were multiple officers involved,” he wrote, noting the evidence fell short of proving excessive force was used.

Police are protected in the Criminal Code from criminal liability for using force against people, provided it’s not interpreted as excessive.

An unnamed female officer also reportedly told SIU investigators she “felt uncomfortable” with the man’s proximity to police, and Martino alluded vaguely to evidence that the man’s behaviour was “threatening to the officers.”

Sitting in the back of the cruiser on the night of April 8, the man was told that he fought with officers and would get a ticket for public intoxication, but wouldn’t be charged for resisting arrest.

Paramedics arrived after being called by police and transported the man to Groves hospital, where it was discovered he had a broken leg, according to the SIU.

“There are no reasonable grounds to believe that the [officer] committed a criminal offence,” Martino asserted.

The director closed the file, opining there is “no basis” for charges because he doubted the man’s reliability, and suggested the man’s account of what happened that night wasn’t “any likelier to be closer to the truth” than what police had to say.