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ASIRT recommends conduct review for CPS officer but not charges

Susan Hughson, executive director ASIRT, speaks at a press conference in Calgary, Alta., Monday, Aug. 22, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal

A Calgary police officer will not be charged for their treatment of two men held in arrest processing. An investigation by Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) examined officer behaviour in two separate incidents, seven months apart. While ASIRT stated force used out of view of security camera was “highly suspicious”, and force used during a mental health crisis was not proportional, it concluded charges were not warranted.

In one case, use of force resulting in a man losing consciousness. In the second case, the use of force against a man in the middle of a mental health crisis was determined to be “arguably not justified,” says ASIRT in its report.

Additional review by the Calgary Police Service, in the context of professional conduct, is warranted, states ASIRT.

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Out of view

The first incident on Dec. 7, 2018, involved a 53-year-old man who was removed from a cell with other detainees. After receiving food and water, the man threw a water bottle at a commissionaire, resulting in the commissionaire getting wet. The man was being taken to an individual cell, when the attending officer pushed the man against a wall in the hallway. The man was shorter than the officer, only coming up to the officer’s shoulders.

This occurred outside the view of security cameras. The officer’s hands — how he was holding the man — were not in view.

“At one point during this period of time, however, one of (the man’s) hands appears to come up and rest on the upper chest of the subject officer. Approximately 15 seconds later, (the man’s) hand appears to become limp and fall,” ASIRT executive director Susan Hughson wrote. “There is no deliberate movement by (the man) observed after this point.”

When the officer backed away from the man, he collapsed and fell to the floor “landing partially on his face, unconscious.”

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According to the report, a medic was called. The man was taken to hospital where he was found to have a rib fracture. He had a fresh wound that was sutured. He was released from hospital on Dec. 17, 2018.

The man had nine convictions over 27 years relating to property and driving offences.

During an interview with ASIRT investigators, the man said the officer grabbed him by the throat and “choked” him. He recalled regaining consciousness on the floor, after blacking out.

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Two other officers witnessed the incident. One said the officer was holding the man by his hoodie to restrain the man against the wall, but did not see the man being held by the neck. But when the man was told “now walk” he fell to the floor. The witnessing officer said he did not know why that happened.

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The other witnessing officer said he found a chunk of sandwich by the man’s head, and a pool of blood. He wasn’t sure if the way the man was being held against the wall would restrict breathing or blood flow, but he did not believe that was officer’s intent. He also said he could hear the man breathing through clenched teeth.

“At a minimum,” states the ASIRT report, “it is highly suspicious that the subject officer stopped (the man) and restrained him against the wall in a location that did not have camera coverage.” It concluded such action was not necessary, and any reprimand about assaulting a commissionaire could have happened in the individual cell.

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ASIRT noted inconsistencies in the man’s statements to EMS and medical staff.

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The Alberta Crown Prosecutor Service and ASIRT independently found they would not lay charges against the officer.

However, ASIRT said if the officer used a hold restricting breathing or blood flow, “that use of force would have been disproportionate and unreasonable having regard to the circumstances and the level of force reasonably necessary to perform the subject officer’s duties that day.”

There may be need for disciplinary action, said ASIRT, since the officer stopped the man in an area not fully-covered by cameras when the interaction “should otherwise be visible and recorded.”

“Indeed, given the involvement in two separate incidents, the situation warrants additional examination by CPS from a professional standards perspective.”

Heavy handed

The second incident involved a 44-year-old man who was also seriously injured in Calgary’s arrest processing section.

On July 3, 2019, CPS received a complaint about a man threatening both suicide and homicide while at an Alberta Works office.

CPS officers arrested him at his home on an outstanding warrant — rather than under provisions of the Mental Health Act. A shotgun was removed from the home and given to the man’s friend for safekeeping.

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After being processed and put to a cell with three other people, the man took off his shirt and repeatedly tried to hang himself.

An attending officer and two witnessing officers removed the man and put him in an isolation cell with nothing that could be used for self-harm.

Later that evening, the man’s clothing were taken — to prevent further attempts. The man was given a “blanket-like garment specifically designed for individuals that might be prone to harming themselves.”

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The man tried to rip the blanket into strips. When officers approached and asked him to hand it over, the man adopted a combative stance.

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Four officers entered the cell, one with a plastic shield.

The man pushed away the officer with the shield. The other officers wrestled him to the ground.

The attending officer straddled the man’s torso and delivered eleven punches and two elbow strikes to the man’s head. The officer with the shield delivered four knee strikes to the man’s torso “as a pain compliance technique and later held (the man’s) right wrist up, bending his palm in another pain compliance technique,” the ASIRT report states.

Once the man was restrained, he was injected with a sedative by an on-site paramedic. The man was observed to have cuts on his face.

After being transported to hospital, treated, given a CT scan and returned to police custody, police were informed by the hospital that it found a ‘brain bleed.’ He was returned to hospital.

ASIRT found the strikes to the man’s head were “arguably excessive and, given that the blows would have occurred while (the man’s) head was on the cement floor or in a position where the blow would force his head into the cement floor, they certainly risked significant injury.”

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“While pain compliance techniques are permissible, the head is a particularly vulnerable area and if injury is sustained, it can be incredibly serious, potentially even resulting in death. This was an escalation in the use of force.”

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Crown prosecutors said the evidence against the officers who struck the man didn’t meet their standard for prosecution.

The ASIRT executive director agreed, but noted that the officer who struck the man 13 times in his head used “disproportionate” force on a man who was “clearly in the midst of some form of a mental health crisis.”

“[A]ny use of force must be proportionate to the situation.”

De-escalation could have been used before entering the cell, the ASIRT report states.

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