Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) has cleared two Toronto police officers of any wrongdoing after they shot a man with schizophrenia who was holding a knife in a downtown apartment building in April.
A report from the provincial police watchdog released Thursday shows the situation boiled over after police weren’t available to take the man to hospital when he requested to go there, a specialized mental health team was not called in, and an officer kicked at the man’s door after police were warned he might have a knife, and should be considered aggressive.
According to the SIU, it all began on April 9, when a nurse from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) called police to report that a man with schizophrenia had missed appointments to receive his medication.
The SIU says a bench warrant had been issued because the man failed to appear at a court date, while CAMH issued a form authorizing he be returned to the facility for being in violation of a community treatment order.
Police were told the man was known to be violent and had pulled a knife on people in the past, the SIU said in its report. Officers went to his apartment on Shuter Street near Sherbourne Street that day, but no one answered the door.
Then on the morning of April 12, a nurse from CAMH called police again and reported that the man was at the clinic, and was claiming that snakes were attacking him. The man was asking to go to hospital, but clinic staff were uncomfortable going with him in a cab, the SIU says.
Toronto police agreed to send officers to take the man to hospital, but none were available at the time. A little over 20 minutes later, the man left the clinic, the report reads. Officers knocked on his apartment door later that morning, then again in the afternoon as well as just after midnight on April 13, but no one opened the door.
Around 7:30 a.m. on April 13, more officers tried knocking on the man’s door. This time he opened it before quickly slamming it shut, according to the SIU.
Mobile crisis team not called in
Those cops asked senior officers how they should handle the situation. According to the SIU, they discussed the deployment of the mobile crisis intervention team (MCIT), which partners a mental health nurse and a specially trained police officer to respond to situations involving people experiencing a mental health crisis. However, the MCIT wasn’t available until 11 a.m., according to the report.
Not long after, two other officers arrived at the apartment, and one of them kicked at the door. That’s when, the SIU says, the man opened it about halfway, holding a large knife.
According to the report, a struggle then broke out in which one of the officers was being pulled into the apartment by the man, while another officer behind her tried to pull her away from the door.
In the chaos, the officer was pulled into the apartment and ended up on her back. A third officer fired his Taser at the man with the knife, but one of the probes ended up hitting another cop, according to the SIU. The officer fired his Taser a second time, but again, it had no effect.
The report says the door was then closed and locked, with only the officer who fell on her back and the man with the knife inside. One officer fired his gun at the door twice, while around the same time, the other officer shot at the man from inside the apartment.
Man shot multiple times
The man was shot three times, the SIU says; in both arms, and in the abdomen. An SIU spokesperson told CBC News that the man was taken to hospital with serious injuries, and has since been released.
SIU director Joseph Martino said in his report that the officer who was in the apartment with the man acted appropriately.
“Finding herself alone in a locked apartment with an armed and erratic complainant, it would appear that the officer was entitled to meet a lethal threat with lethal force of her own,” he said.
However, Martino did take some issue with the officer who fired at the apartment door. In the end, he called it a “calculated risk.”
“In effect, the officer was shooting blind into the apartment through the door, potentially placing the life of the very person he was trying to save … at risk, as well as any other person who might have been present in the unit,” he said.
In the end, Martino decided there were no grounds for charges, and the case was closed.
Toronto police did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the case.