Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) has cleared two London police officers of criminal wrongdoing after another officer was shot in the eye with a non-lethal projectile during a training exercise over the summer, the agency announced Thursday.
The incident occurred on the morning of June 23 as officers with the London Police Service’s emergency response unit conducted a hostage-taking simulation at London Fire Station 11, a decommissioned fire hall on Westminster Drive that is used for training purposes. The incident was not reported publicly by either London police or the SIU at the time.
According to the SIU, ERU members hold training exercises every Wednesday. On this particular day, the simulation was “designed to culminate in ERU members forcing their way into the fire hall in an attempt to apprehend hostage-takers,” the agency’s report says.
The officer struck, also the complainant, was in charge of running the simulation, and was participating as one of the hostage-takers, according to the SIU.
In addition to the two officers at the centre of the SIU’s probe, identified as Subject official #1 and Subject official #2 in the agency’s report, 13 other “witness officials” were present.
After a mock firefight in the garage bay of the fire hall between tactical officers and the “assailants” using “paintball-type” projectiles called Simunition rounds, the SIU says the complainant “retreated past a hallway, through a kitchen area and into a smaller room off of the kitchen,” where he waited to ambush the officers as part of the exercise.
As Subject official #2 made his way into the kitchen area, he observed the silhouette of the complainant in the doorway of the smaller room and fired his rifle, with one of the rounds striking the complainant in the right eye, the SIU says.
The exercise was immediately brought to a halt, and the complainant was taken to hospital and treated surgically for his serious injury, the SIU said.
According to the SIU, the complainant had raised his helmet and its integrated eye protection at the time he was shot as he was having fogging issues with his personal protective equipment.
Neither of the two subject officials agreed to be interviewed by the SIU or provide their notes, as is their legal right. Of the 13 witness officials, two were interviewed by agency investigators about three weeks after the incident.
In his conclusion, SIU director Joseph Martino said that, based on the evidence, there were no reasonable grounds to believe either of the officers at the centre of the investigation had committed a criminal offence, namely careless use of a firearm and criminal negligence causing bodily harm.
“In the instant case, the issue is whether there was a want of care in the manner in which either subject official comported himself in the training exercise that caused or contributed to the complainant’s injury and/or was sufficiently egregious as to attract criminal sanction. In my view, there was not,” Martino said, adding the simulation was “not unusual in any material aspect.”
Martino further noted that officers who raided the fire hall as part of the simulation were expected to shoot for the head or upper body of the “assailants” to “maximize the immediacy of their incapacitation and minimize their potential to inflict harm.”
“The objective was to replicate as realistically as possible a real-world scenario so as to build muscle memory among the trainees. Accordingly, I am unable to fault either subject official for aiming and firing at the complainant’s head.”
Martino concluded that the injured officer was “himself largely responsible” for being struck in the eye after lifting his protective equipment.