No criminal charges will be laid against officers involved in taking down a 68-year-old man inside the Norfolk OPP detachment in April after an investigation completed by the province’s Special Investigations Unit.
While the man sustained serious injuries – three broken ribs and a collapsed lung, the SIU said there is “no reasonable grounds to lay criminal charges against any of the officers.”
In October, Michael James Sparks, who is not named in the SIU report, pleaded guilty to assault with intent to resist arrest, assault with a weapon and carrying a concealed weapon. He was sentenced to the equivalent of 305 days of time served.
But, during his trial, Justice Aubrey Hilliard said she felt the use of force options used by police were “excessive.”
According to the SIU report – based on interviews with two of the three officers who caused the man’s injuries and eight officers who witnessed some of the events – Sparks was invited to the detachment to be interviewed and became combative when an arrest was made.
Sparks reached for a knife in his pocket and was Tasered and wrestled to the ground by officers.
At trial, defence lawyer Dale Paquette said his client was “Tasered, punched, kicked and people sat on top of him.”
The SIU investigation looked at police video captured from some of the areas where Sparks was held but didn’t show the brawl in the boardroom where the man was arrested.
“In the hallway on the basement level there were bloodstains on the wall next to a bulletin board,” said the report.
While the SIU report doesn’t specify, it seems that Sparks told investigators a different story than the one told by police officers.
“It should be noted there is some evidence suggesting a version of events that involves a far more severe application of police force,” reads the report.
“This evidence provides that the complainant was repeatedly kicked by various officers while on the floor and offering no resistance. Moreover, this evidence further indicates that one of the officers discharged a CEW (Taser) at the complainant after he was handcuffed, that the complainant was thrown down a flight of stairs and that the complainant was assaulted by another officer in a room where he was taken to contact his lawyer.”
But SIU interim director Joseph Martino said he is satisfied it would have been unwise to proceed with criminal charges on the strength of that story because it stood in stark contract to the rest of the testimonial evidence and was “belied by video recordings” that showed no officer entered the room in which the complainant was taken to speak to a lawyer.
He said the man’s injuries could have corroborated his story but were equally consistent with appropriate use of force from the police as they arrested him.
“When the complainant physically resisted his arrest, the officers were entitled to resort to a measure of force to effect their purpose,” said Martino, adding that, in his view, they did not cross a line into excessive force.
He said Sparks was pinned against a wall, grounded to the floor and an officer delivered “three knee strikes” to his torso, trying to free Sparks’ arms from underneath his body. He was Tasered and finally handcuffed.
“Confronted with a physically recalcitrant individual, armed for a period with a knife and refusing to surrender his hands, the knee strikes and (Taser) deployment do not seem to me to be a disproportionate or excessive use of force.”
Martino cited Canadian law that notes police in dangerous situations are not required to measure their force exactly but to use a reasonable response.
“I am satisfied the force used by the officers was legally justified. Accordingly, there are no grounds for proceeding with charges in this case and the file is closed.”