SIU clears Ottawa police officers in shooting death of Indigenous man

Ontario's police watchdog says no charges are warranted in the January 2019 death of Greg Ritchie, a member of the Saugeen First Nation who was fatally shot by two Ottawa Police Service constables.

Greg Ritchie, 30, was killed in a shopping mall parking lot in January 2019

Greg Ritchie, 30, was shot to death by Ottawa police during an altercation last January. More than one year later, Ontario's police watchdog has ruled the officers involved in Ritchie's death did not commit a criminal offence. (Submitted by Chantel Ritchie)

Ontario's police watchdog says no charges are warranted in the January 2019 death of an Indigenous man shot and killed by two Ottawa Police Service constables.

Greg Ritchie, 30, was fatally shot on the morning of Jan. 31, 2019, in the parking lot of the Elmvale Acres Shopping Mall.

Police were investigating what they called a "suspicious incident" in the area when they came across Ritchie, a member of the Saugeen First Nation near Owen Sound, Ont.

Audio from Broadcastify, an online service that provides access to emergency dispatch calls, indicated a man dressed in black and wearing a baseball hat with the word "Dope" on it had been seen walking into the mall holding a knife in his hand.

After an encounter with the two police officers — later identified as constables Thanh Tran and Daniel Vincelette — Ritchie was shot three times and was pronounced dead in hospital.

His family later told CBC News he'd struggled with mental illness from a young age and was heading to a pharmacy to pick up medication when the altercation happened.

Const. Thanh Tran, seen here in 2013, was one of the officers cleared by the SIU Friday in the death of Greg Ritchie. (CBC)

At least 9 shots fired

According to the report released Friday by Ontario's Special Investigations Unit (SIU), when the officers encountered Ritchie, he was carrying a 40-centimetre-long stick with a rock attached to one end.

Ritchie had "taken to crafting and selling these items, cultural artifacts born of his Indigenous heritage," said the report from SIU director Joseph Martino.

After one of the two constables tried to talk to him, Ritchie "grew frustrated" and began to threaten the officer. When the second officer approached him, Ritchie moved toward him, stick in hand — prompting the second officer to fire his Taser twice, the report said.

This was the object that Greg Ritchie swung at an Ottawa police officer shortly before he was shot and killed in January 2019, according to the Special Investigations Unit. (Special Investigations Unit)

The shots failed to halt Ritchie, Martino wrote. He then turned his attention to the first officer, raised the stick above his head and swung it at him.

The first officer fired "two, and possibly three" shots at Ritchie, the report said, while the second officer fired "seven, and possibly eight" times.

Ritchie was hit by three bullets, handcuffed, and taken by paramedics to hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries. A post-mortem examination determined the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the chest, the report said.

A few days after his death, Ottawa residents gathered outside the police force's Elgin Street headquarters and held a spirit walk to honour Ritchie, described by family members as a gentle man proud of his Ojibway heritage.

His brother, Nicholas, called for better mental health training for police officers.

'Reasonably necessary force'

In his report, Martino concluded the two officers used "reasonably necessary force" when they chose to fire their guns at Ritchie, given he was swinging an object they'd been told may have been an axe or a knife.

"One can reasonably infer that the officers would have perceived the object as capable of inflicting serious harm and possibly even death," wrote Martino in his report.

"Indeed, [Ritchie] certainly appears to have intended to use it as an object capable of significant harm when he swung it at [the first officer] at close range."

The two officers also "did what they could" to resolve the matter without things turning deadly, Martino noted, first attempting to speak with Ritchie and then attempting to halt his progress with a Taser.

Ritchie was shot to death at the parking lot of the Elmvale Acres shopping mall on the morning of Jan. 31, 2019. (Christian Milette/CBC)

Given the encounter took place in a mall parking lot, they were "duty bound" to ensure public safety, Martino said.

Martino's report does not identify which officer was Vincelette and which officer was Tran. Neither provided their notes, the report said, nor did they agree to be interviewed as part of the investigation, which is their legal right.

The SIU is an independent agency that investigates incidents involving police where someone is sexually assaulted, injured or killed.