London

Watchdog clears London police in death of man who fell from high-rise balcony

The province’s police watchdog has concluded that there's no basis for criminal charges to be laid in connection with the death of a 27-year-old London man who fell from a Walnut Street balcony earlier this year.

The victim, 27-year-old Caleb Njoko, died after police responded to a ‘person in distress’ call

Caleb Tubila Njoko died in hospital after falling from the 15th floor balcony at 85 Walnut Street in London, Ont. after police were called to the unit for a person in distress. (Provided by Godelive Tutonda)

The province's police watchdog has concluded that there is no basis for criminal charges to be laid in connection with the death of a 27-year-old London man who fell from a Walnut Street balcony earlier this year.

In an interim report, the Special Investigations Unit said there were no officers inside the 15th floor apartment unit when Caleb Tuila Njoko fell to the ground on May 5. Njoko died of his injuries on May 8.

In a final report issued Thursday, the SIU said London police officers responded to a call from Njoko's mother, who expressed concern for her son's well being.

His mother, Nelly Wendo, told CBC News she had called police when she was worried his behaviour was growing more erratic after days of not sleeping and painful injuries sustained following an arrest on April 28.

The SIU report said Njoko had been behaving strangely and damaging property in his mother's apartment. "She was concerned about his mental health and wanted police officers … to take her son to be examined by mental health professionals."

When officers arrived at the apartment at around 10:30 p.m. on May 5, they couldn't get into the unit but were briefly able to talk to Njoko by phone, the SIU report said.

A ram one of the officers was carrying was used to try and force the door open, but it only opened "an additional few centimetres." The report said one of the witness officers attempted to communicate with Njoko through the opening but was met by silence.

A trained negotiator was among the officers who attempted to make contact. At one point the negotiator "seemed to be making some progress in resolving the situation."

When officers learned that Njoko was perched on the 15th floor balcony railing and threatening to jump, they escalated their response, the report said.  That's when the ram was used to force the door to the apartment open, but there wasn't enough space to allow for entry. Meanwhile, an officer was deployed to the ground to see what was happening on the balcony.

The officer reported that Njoko was sitting on the railing and then "attempting to scale down the balconies (below). Within seconds, (Njoko) fell from a balcony to the ground below, suffering mortal injuries in the process."

Questions raised

While SIU director Joseph Martino said he found no basis for criminal charges to be laid against the one subject officer being investigated, he did raise questions and concerns about the conduct of the officers on the scene that night.

He said when officers first arrived, there was a missed opportunity to gain entry into Njoko's mother's apartment unit. Martino wrote that one of the witness officers "pushed against Njoko's efforts to force the door closed, but decided to disengage in order to de-escalate the situation."

"In hindsight," he wrote, "that may have been a lost opportunity. That said, I am unable to fault the officers for making the decision they did at the time." He said they were unaware of the scope of Njoko's mental distress and "could reasonably surmise that forcing the issue at that moment might have resulted in more harm than good."

Martino also questioned why officers on the scene did not enter another resident's apartment and balcony to more closely interact with Njoko. That, he said, "remains unclear."

"What is clear is that (Njoko) was fearful of the police and had barricaded himself in the apartment once he learned of their presence in the hallway."  He added that "it was entirely possible that a more proactive posture at the moment might well have unduly provoked" Njoko.

The SIU director also suggested that the officers involved "might have done more to mobilize mental health supports from the community."

But he added, "their failure to do so is tempered by the speed with which events unfolded."

Martino noted that "from the moment the subject officer arrived at the scene until Njoko started his fateful climb down the building, approximately 18 minutes had elapsed."

In the final analysis, Martino said he was satisfied that the police response "fell short of constituting a mark and substantial departure from a a reasonable level of care in the circumstances."

And with no basis for proceeding with criminal charges, he said the "file is closed."

 

 

 

With files from CBC's Kate Dubinski

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