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SIU clears Chatham-Kent officers in man's death

Ontario's police watchdog has cleared two Chatham-Kent police officers in the death of a 53-year-old man following his arrest last September.

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Ontario’s police watchdog has cleared two Chatham-Kent police officers in the death of a 53-year-old man following his arrest last September.

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Joseph Martino, the director of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), said Wednesday there were no reasonable grounds to believe that either officer committed a criminal offence in relation to the complainant’s death.

The investigation began after the man died on Sept. 15 after being airlifted to the London Health Sciences Centre. He had originally been admitted to an area hospital for a psychiatric examination following his arrest at an area store by police for trespassing. During that Sept. 8 arrest, the man reportedly resisted and kicked at the officers. One of the officers struck the man with an elbow while he was being handcuffed, the SIU reports stated.

The man – believed to be a suffering a mental-health crisis – was later examined by paramedics at the scene before being taken to the police station and later transferred to hospital.

While in hospital, the complainant asked to have his ribs examined, saying he had been in a fight before his admission, the SIU noted in the report. X-rays taken the following day revealed multiple rib fractures and a collapsed lung.

Arrangements were made to insert a chest tube, which was completed on Sept. 14. Further imaging showed extensive bilateral rib fractures, prompting his transfer to the London hospital where he died.

“On this record, I am unable to reasonably conclude that a single elbow strike (delivered as the officers struggled to handcuff his arms), and the officers’ efforts in wrestling control of his arms, were more than was necessary to subdue the complainant and effect his arrest,” Martino stated in his report.

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“Nor does the medical evidence establish that this force resulted in the serious physical injuries that ultimately resulted in the complainant’s death. On the contrary, the overriding weight of the evidence, including the medical evidence and utterances made by the complainant while in hospital, strongly suggests that the complainant’s injuries were inflicted prior to his interaction with (the subject officers) on the day in question.”

According to the pathologist after an autopsy, the medical evidence suggested the complainant’s death was “attributable to acute pneumonia with complications due to multiple rib fractures,” the SIU stated.

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

Martino added he was satisfied the officers exercised “due care and regard for (the man’s) well-being,” noting they arranged for paramedics to be at the scene.

“It was only after he was cleared by the paramedics that the complainant was taken to the police station,” he said. “The complainant was there for only a short period before the officer in charge of his booking became concerned for his mental health and had him taken to hospital by paramedics.”

A complainant is someone who was involved in some form of interaction with police during which the individual sustained serious injury, died, was reported to have been sexually assaulted, or was shot at by a firearm discharged by an officer.

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