Ottawa police officers who brought a man in distress to a shelter earlier this year have been cleared of criminal wrongdoing by the provincial policing watchdog after the man lost vital signs in their back of their cruiser.
Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU), a civilian agency that investigates incidents of death or serious assault involving a police officer, invoked its mandate related to an incident on Jan. 2, 2021.
The final SIU report released Monday details the sequence of events, starting shortly after noon that day in front of the Lord Elgin Hotel, when a passerby called 911 after seeing a man stumbling and then unable to stand on the sidewalk in front of the building.
The caller told the emergency dispatcher she thought the man, 25 years old with dark brown hair, might be intoxicated.
Two officers arriving on the scene later agreed with her assessment. They were able to speak with the man, according to the SIU report, and told him they would transport him to the Shepherds of Good Hope shelter on Mackenzie King Avenue, where a bed was open and a nurse could monitor his condition.
The man got into the back of the cruiser voluntarily and was not handcuffed, according to the report.
The officers, both of whom submitted their notes from the incident and agreed to an interview with SIU investigators, said the man was upright and verbal during the trip to the shelter, though he would occasionally drift out of consciousness.
But when they arrived at Shepherds of Good Hope, the man could not be roused. The SIU report indicates he was still breathing and had a pulse at this time, but an ambulance was called.
In the seven minutes between that call and the arrival of paramedics, the man lost vitals, the report said.
He was lifted into the back of the ambulance where paramedics and one of the police officers attempted to resuscitate him, but he was pronounced dead a few moments later.
A toxicology analysis on the man to determine an exact cause of death is still pending.
But SIU director Joseph Martino wrote in his conclusion that there is no basis to say that the officers involved in the case did not attempt to provide the necessaries of life or that they were criminally negligent to the man, referred to as the “complainant” in the report.
“There is nothing to suggest that either officer was derelict in their care of the complainant in the 20-25 minutes that he was in their custody,” Martino wrote.
“Accordingly, there is no basis for proceeding with criminal charges at this time, and the file is closed.”