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Ontario’s police watchdog clears officer that discharged an anti-riot weapon at 66-year-old man

The province’s police watchdog has cleared an officer who discharged an anti-riot weapon at a man who threatened to shoot at police at his home in Picton, Ont.

The investigation follows an incident that happened on July 23. Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) received a call at around 10:20 a.m. that an unidentified 66-year-old man, referred to as the complainant in the report, had fired his rifle a number of times on his property.

The report says the complainant instructed the caller to contact the OPP to say he would be “waiting for them outside.” According to the report, the caller mentioned the man had “mental health issues.”

Special Investigations Unit (SIU) Director Joseph Martino noted that a week before the incident, the complainant wrote a letter to the OPP’s Prince Edward County Detachment, saying he would shoot them if they attended his home.

According to OPP, their background check revealed he viewed the police negatively because of the death of a family member, though the report did not provide further details.

On the morning of the incident, OPP and Tactical and Rescue Unit (TRU) officers attended the scene, and a perimeter was established around the complainant’s residence.

Officers positioned themselves around a tactical van that was about 50 metres away from the driveway entrance, and one of them, who is referred to as the subject official (SO), was on the passenger side of the van armed with an ENfield (ARWEN) gun – a non-lethal riot weapon. A police dog handler was on the opposite side of the van.

At the time, Martino said, the complainant was operating a lawn tractor while in possession of a rifle. It was shortly after 11:20 a.m., the report said, that the complainant walked down his driveway and toward the road with his rifle in his right hand.

As he got closer to the roadway, the SIU said he turned left to make his way onto the grass field north of the driveway, which is when he was hit by multiple ARWEN rounds. A total of five rounds were fired by the subject official.

The complainant fell to the ground, and as he was lying there, he was bitten in the neck by a police dog. TRU officers rushed over to pry the dog off, secure the rifle and handcuff the man.

He was taken to the hospital where he was assessed under the Mental Health Act, the SIU said. He sustained “superficial” bite wounds from the dog, according to the SIU report.

The SIU investigates whenever police are involved in an incident that results in a death or serious injury, or when police discharge a weapon at a person.

After investigating, Martino concluded that there are “no reasonable grounds” to believe any criminal offence was committed by an officer.

Under section 25(1) of the Criminal Code, Martino said officers are “immune from criminal liability for force used in the course of their duties provided such force was reasonably necessary in the execution of an act that they were required or authorized to do by law.”

“The SO and the other officers who responded to the scene had cause to believe that the Complainant had fired a long gun while making a thinly-veiled threat of gun violence against the OPP when they arrived at his property,” Martino wrote in the report, adding he was satisfied the complainant was subject to be arrested for weapons offences.

Martino said he was also satisfied that the SO’s use of force to arrest the complainant – namely the ARWEN discharges – was legally justified.

“The SO and his colleagues would clearly have apprehended a real and imminent risk to their lives when the Complainant emerged on his driveway near the roadway with a rifle in hand and then turned left to walk in their direction,” Martino said.

The director also noted the public’s safety was also in danger, as residents near the complainant’s property were at home.

“On this record, I am unable to reasonably conclude that the SO acted precipitously or excessively when he fired the ARWEN,” the report reads.

Since the ARWEN temporarily incapacitated the complainant, Martino said, it provided police the opportunity to arrest the man safely without the infliction of serious injury, which he notes is what happened. 

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