Manitoba

Police watchdog clears Winnipeg officers of wrongdoing in arrest of man armed with knife, fire extinguisher

Manitoba's police watchdog has cleared two Winnipeg officers of wrongdoing in a 2018 arrest that resulted in a man's nose and two vertebrae being fractured, when police used force to subdue him after he went into what officers described as a "violent frenzy."

Man had fractures to 2 vertebrae, nose after being arrested in Sherbrook Street apartment building in 2018

The Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba has cleared two Winnipeg police officers of wrongdoing in the arrest of a man who sustained two fractured vertebrae and a fractured nasal bone. (Hamilton Police Service)

Manitoba's police watchdog has cleared two Winnipeg officers of wrongdoing in an arrest that resulted in a man's nose and two vertebrae being fractured, when police used force to subdue him after he went into what officers described as a "violent frenzy."

The Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba's final report, released Wednesday, said police were called to a Sherbrook Street apartment block on Feb. 2, 2018, by residents who said a man was walking down the hallway carrying a fire extinguisher and knocking on doors.

The four civilian witnesses interviewed by the watchdog agency, which investigates serious incidents involving police, said the man continued up and down the hallway for about 30 minutes.

One of the witnesses said people living in the apartment were fearful and called police for help.

Injuries not life-changing

Photographs of the scene showed a fire extinguisher, a powdery white substance, and glass debris from the fire extinguisher's broken casing, the IIU's report said.

They also showed "bloodlike substances," a pair of scissors, a drywall knife with a serrated blade and an "8-ball" — a homemade weapon made with a pool ball or similarly heavy object attached to a string or put into a sock.

At the Winnipeg Remand Centre a few days after the incident, the man told investigators from the IIU he went into the basement of the apartment that night to find the maintenance worker's suite, because he was cold and wanted gloves. The man said he fell asleep in the hallway, and was awoken by police officers beating him.

The man told investigators he may have had a fire extinguisher at some point and may have discharged it, but said he did not threaten the officers. He also said he had a drywall knife hidden in one sleeve, and an "8-ball" in the other.

The man said he uses methamphetamine, but had not taken any that evening, although he said he had consumed alcohol.

He told investigators he recalled being hit with a stun gun four or five times and struck multiple times around his head, shoulders, eye, back and kidney area while face down on the ground.

A report from the stun gun used that night show the weapon was deployed three times just after 3 a.m.

The man said his nose was broken and three of his teeth were knocked out.

His medical records showed two vertebrae and his nasal bone were fractured, the report said. The doctor who treated the man after his arrest said the injuries were not life-changing and he expected the man to make a full recovery.

A 'violent frenzy'

The Independent Investigation Unit designated 14 Winnipeg Police Service officers as witness officers. Of those, two were later labelled "subject officers" and four others were called in to be interviewed.

The officers told investigators they arrived at the apartment to attend to a weapons call, and that the suspect was lying on the floor near the emergency exit. The officers said the man had a knife near his hand and was "embracing" a fire extinguisher, and went into a "violent frenzy," refusing to listen to officers' instructions when he woke up.

One of the witness officers described the incident as "ever-changing, dynamic, a struggle and a fight."

The watchdog's final report concluded the officers' use of force in the arrest was appropriate because the suspect had weapons and was acting violently.

The unit's civilian director, Zane Tessler, found there were no grounds to justify charges against the officers because they were working to end the altercation and prevent significant harm to themselves and the suspect.

"In my opinion, the subject officers demonstrated calculated, crucial and necessary actions to avoid the necessity of resorting to potential lethal force," Tessler wrote in the report.

"In the end, more serious physical harm and the potential for loss of life was completely avoided by the actions of the subject officers."