No charges against Lennox & Addington OPP officer after incident in cells

The Special Investigations Unit’s Director, Joseph Martino, says he has found no reasonable grounds to believe that a Lennox & Addington Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officer committed a criminal offence in connection with the facial fracture suffered by a 37-year-old man in 2020. The Special Investigations Unit (SIU), a civilian law enforcement agency, investigates incidents involving police officers where there has been death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault.

On November 17, 2020, OPP arrested a male for breach of conditions related to a domestic dispute at a Deseronto residence that he had been ordered not to be at.

According to the report, shortly before 9:00 p.m., the OPP received a call from a woman, who was calling to report that the male was at her residence in Deseronto, in violation of a term of his probation. OPP officers were dispatched to the address. The male had left the woman’s address by the time the police arrived, but he was quickly located on a nearby street and arrested by police officers. According to OPP, the male was intoxicated and unsteady on his feet. He was handcuffed, briefly searched, placed in the rear of the OPP cruiser, and transported to the OPP Lennox and Addington Detachment, in Greater Napanee.

At the detachment, the male was searched again, had some clothing removed, and was lodged in a cell at about 9:32 p.m. A civilian guard was assigned to keep watch.

According to surveillance footage in the cells, at about 9:35 p.m., the male reached into his right pants pocket and retrieved a small packaged item. He then unwrapped the package and deposited a white substance it contained onto the cell bench, forming the powder-like material into lines, which he then proceeded to snort.  

Noticing what the male had done, the guard asked him about it and then reported his observations to an OPP officer. She, in turn, alerted two other officers, who made their way to the cell.

One of the officers, having been advised that the male had ingested something from his pants pockets, shouted at him to keep his hands out of his pockets. Footage shows that the male placed his right hand into his right front pants pocket at about the same time as the officer entered the cell. The officer immediately took hold of the male’s wrists, pulling his right wrist out of the pocket. Footage shows a struggle ensued between the parties, which was quickly joined by a second officer who had also moved into the cell and grabbed hold of the male’s right arm.

Within seconds of taking hold of the male, one of the officers, still with a hold of his left arm, forced the male across the length of the cell into the opposing cell wall. The right side of the male’s face struck the wall. Immediately after impact, the officer pulled the male down onto the cell bench. The grounding resulted in the male’s face striking the bench as his upper half came to rest on the cell bench, his lower half in a kneeling position by the side of the bench.

Following the takedown, the officer searched the male and located a grey plastic baggie in his right front pants pocket that contained what he believed was cocaine. According to footage, the officers exited the cell at about 9:39 p.m. The male was bleeding from the face at this time and advised the officers that he believed his jaw was broken.

Paramedics were summoned to the detachment and arrived at about 9:50 p.m. They took the male to Lennox and Addington County General Hospital (L&ACGH), where he was diagnosed with a broken jaw on his left side.

In his report, Director Martino says he found insufficient evidence to reasonably conclude that the officer acted with excessive force in the circumstances.  He acknowledges the force was significant, but the officer was within their rights to act quickly as the man was at risk of self-harm from the ingestion of drugs.

“Pursuant to section 25(1) of the Criminal Code, police 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,” Martino says in his decision. “The Complainant had violated the terms of his probation order on November 17, 2020. He was, therefore, subject to arrest. Once in police custody, the officers charged with his care and control were also entitled to take measures to ensure his safety and secure evidence from his person.”

“With respect to the nature and level of force used by the Subject Officer (SO) inside the cell, I am unable to conclude that it was more than was reasonably necessary in the circumstances,” Martino continues. “Despite having been searched twice beforehand, the Complainant still had with him contraband that the officers reasonably suspected was cocaine. He had been seen removing a wrapped package from his front right pants pocket, emptying some of its contents onto the cell bench, and ingesting the powder-like substance through his nose. The SO and the other officers had cause to be concerned about a possible overdose situation and were within their rights in seeking to act quickly to prevent the Complainant consuming any more of the substance.”

“In the circumstances,” Martino says, “the SO was justified in resorting to a measure of force when the Complainant failed to heed police commands that he not place his hands in his pockets. While that force was significant, I am satisfied that it was intended to immediately foreclose any opportunity that the Complainant might have had to consume more drugs, and was not disproportionate to the task at hand. The takedown, for example, though forceful and perhaps the cause of the facial fracture, placed the Complainant into a position of disadvantage whereby any further resistance on his part could be better managed. Indeed, it was shortly after the takedown that the SO, with Witness Officer (WO) #1’s assistance, was able to subdue the Complainant, after which the Complainant was searched again and a package of suspected drugs removed from his right front pants pocket.”

“For the foregoing reasons, there is insufficient evidence to reasonably conclude that the SO acted with excessive force in his dealings with the Complainant inside the cell. The force was significant, but the risk of self-harm and possibly even death befalling the Complainant in a drug overdose situation was also real. On balance, I am satisfied that the officer acted within the range of what was of justifiable force in the circumstances. Accordingly, there is no basis for proceeding with criminal charges in this case, and the file is closed.”

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