Thunder Bay

'Tragic series of missteps' by Thunder Bay police led to man's death: SIU

Ontario's Special Investigations Unit says an intoxicated man, experiencing breathing difficulties, was left unattended in Thunder Bay police cells for nearly five hours before his death.

No charges, but SIU concludes intoxicated man received 'substandard' care while in custody

The Special Investigations unit says Thunder Bay police officers 'failed to grasp the true nature of their responsibilities' to an intoxicated man with breathing difficulties who died in their custody. (CBC)

Ontario's Special Investigations Unit says an intoxicated man, experiencing breathing difficulties, was left unattended in Thunder Bay police cells for nearly five hours before his death.

There are no reasonable grounds to charge any one officer with a criminal offence relating to the death of the 44-year-old on August 3, 2014, according to a report released by the SIU on Thursday.

However, the report details what SIU director Tony Loparco calls a "tragic series of missteps by all of the officers involved in the man's custody that conspired against the man that day."

Police were dispatched to a church in Thunder Bay at approximately 4:15 p.m. on August 2, regarding an intoxicated man, the SIU report said. Paramedics arrived and "dealt with the man", then left the scene and police took him into custody.

Arrest was 'lawful'

"There is little doubt that the man's arrest for public intoxication was lawful. He was highly intoxicated and in no condition to care for himself," Loparco said in his report. "However, the [SIU] investigation has revealed problems with the manner in which the man was cared for while in police custody."

The arresting officers did not tell the paramedics the man was experiencing breathing difficulties, Loparco said. Nor did they convey the information to the officers responsible for the man while he was in the cells.  

When the man asked to go to hospital a second time because of shortness of breath, according to the report, police told him he had been cleared by paramedics.

"The officers, it seems to me, ought to have erred on the side of caution and taken him to hospital," Loparco said.

Man found dead on cell floor

The report also had harsh words for the officer with the closest contact with the man in the cells.

"With respect to the subject officer, the [SIU] investigation is simply at a loss to explain why she failed to conduct personal checks on the man as she was required to do pursuant to police policy," Loparco wrote.

No personal checks were done on the man for "upwards of five hours," he said.

At 3 a.m. on August 3, the man was found unresponsive on the cell and pronounced dead.

An autopsy found the man died of ketoacidosis complicating diabetes mellitus, chronic alcoholism and septicemia.

Loparco said he considered a charge of failure to provide the necessities of life and found the circumstances were "close to the line".

The fact the paramedics at the scene said the man was fine and did not need to go to hospital mitigates the officers' conduct, Loparco said.

"In some ways, it is because the responsibility in this case is spread wide across the officers that there is insufficient evidence that any one officer is sufficiently blameworthy to attract criminal sanction," he concluded.

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