Warning: This story contains details that some may find disturbing
Ontario’s police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit, said there’s “no reasonable grounds” to lay charges in connection with an incident that occurred on Manitoulin Island in November and left an OPP officer and a 60-year-old man dead.
On Nov. 19, 2020, OPP Const. Marc Hovingh and 60-year-old Gary Brohman both died in an exchange of gunfire.
While Hovingh succumbed to his injuries, the SIU still investigated the matter since it involved someone dying during an incident in which police were involved.
The SIU report, which was released on Friday, revealed a detailed account of events that led up to the fatal November shooting.
According to the report’s incident narrative, Hovingh entered Brohman’s trailer to arrest him for mischief when Brohman picked up a shotgun and fired at Hovingh three times. Hovingh then quickly returned fire, discharging seven rounds from his semi-automatic pistol.
Three SIU investigators and three forensic SIU investigators were assigned to the case. The SIU also interviewed two civilian witnesses and four witness officers.
The police watchdog obtained communications recordings from the November incident, a list of past OPP occurrences involving Brohman, scene photos, a 2009 occurrence report of an allegation by Brohman of torture committed by a surgeon during surgery, other police records for Brohman, OPP training records for Hovingh and his partner, as well as notes from witnesses.
Trailer ‘unlawfully’ set up
The SIU report’s incident narrative said Brohman illegally set up a trailer on land owned by a civilian witness.
That evening, the witness, whom the report refers to as civilian witness #1, went to the trailer to confront Brohman, who falsely asserted a legal interest in the property.
Civilian witness #1 told Brohman to remove himself and his trailer from the land, indicating he and another civilian witness, whom the report calls civilian witness #2, would return the next day
The next morning at about 10 a.m., Hovingh and another officer, whom the report calls witness officer #1, attended the area.
“Having looked into the matter and satisfied himself that (civilian witness) #1 owned the land and Mr. Brohman was trespassing, Cst Hovingh was there to ensure that Mr. Brohman and his trailer would be leaving,” the report read.
According to the report, Brohman told civilian witness #1 that he had “nowhere to go,” at which point civilian witness #1 agreed to give Brohman until noon the next day to leave. Brohman agreed to the arrangement.
OPP officer ‘suspicious’ about what was going on
After civilian witness #1 and Brohman reached an agreement, the officers walked away from the trailer with both civilian witnesses when Hovingh saw about 20 propane cylinders.
“Suspicious about what was going on, Cst Hovingh walked north of the trailer with (civilian witness) #1 and observed another clearing that was being used to grow marijuana plants,” the report read.
According to the incident narrative, it was estimated that $100,000 worth of cannabis had been grown on the land, which prompted civilian witness #1 to indicate that he wouldn’t wait until the next day for Brohman to leave.
“He wanted him off his property immediately,” the report said. “The officers agreed.”
Hovingh and his partner went back to the trailer to ask Brohman to come outside, but Brohman largely ignored them and told them to go away, indicating that he had until the next day to leave.
When Brohman continued to refuse to open the locked door, police pried it open and witness officer #1 entered the trailer with his Tazer.
According to the report, witness officer #1 asked Brohman to show his hands and exit the trailer, but Brohman refused, saying he had nowhere to go and that he had 24 hours to leave.
“Hovingh, who had been standing outside the trailer by the doorway, asked to switch places with his colleague,” the incident narrative read.
“As Cst Hovingh took a couple of steps forward, Mr. Brohman turned toward the corner of the bedroom. When he turned around again, he was holding a shotgun pointed in Cst Hovingh’s direction.”
It was at that point that shots were fired between Brohman and Hovingh.
Causes of death
According to the SIU report, Hovingh was hit by gunshots twice in his left thigh. The pathologist’s preliminary view at the autopsy attributed Hovingh’s death to his shotgun wounds.
Meanwhile, Brohman suffered gunshot wounds to the left side of his head, right cheek and lower left arm, which ended up travelling into his left torso and lung, the report said.
The pathologist’s preliminary view at the autopsy was that Brohman died as a result of gunshot wounds to his head and chest.
‘No reasonable grounds’ for charges, SIU says
In the SIU case report, the analysis and director’s decision said Hovingh’s use of force toward Brohman fell within Canada’s law of self-defence.
It also said there’s “no reasonable grounds” to believe Hovingh committed a criminal offence in connection with Brohman’s death.
“When Cst Hovingh entered the trailer and was quickly confronted by Mr. Brohman … firing a shotgun at him, he was entitled to resort to lethal force of his own,” the report read.
“Nothing short of a firearm would have provided the sort of rapid and immediately incapacitating effect that was imperative if Cst Hovingh was to have any chance of saving his life. Withdrawal or disengagement was not an option largely because neither was available to Cst Hovingh.”
Martino said Hovingh’s gunfire was also a “reasonable response” in defence of the lives and safety of his partner and civilian witnesses #1 and #2, who were all in the vicinity of the trailer when shots were fired.
“Faced with an armed individual shooting at him, Cst Hovingh could only have concluded that all of their lives were in imminent peril if Mr. Brohman was left unchecked and allowed to exit the trailer,” Martino said in the report.
According to the report, the issue of whether the officers were lawfully inside the trailer at the time of the shooting is one that “need not be addressed.”
“It is clear that Cst Hovingh and (witness officer) #1 forcibly entered a trailer where Mr. Brohman resided without judicial pre-authorization or the existence of exigent circumstances,” the report said.
“On the other hand, Mr. Brohman had set up his trailer unlawfully on land owned by (civilian witness) #1; he was a trespasser on the property whom the officers had reason to believe was engaged in an illegal marijuana grow operation.”
The SIU director indicated in the report that he’s “satisfied” Hovingh conducted himself lawfully while interacting with Brohman.
The SIU file has been closed.
Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit is an independent government agency that investigates the conduct of officials that may have resulted in death, serious injury, sexual assault or the discharge of a firearm at a person.