Probe into Distillery District shooting 'nearly complete,' Saunders confirms
Officer has remained on active duty during internal probe after 15 shots fired into stopped vehicle last fall
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders confirmed Thursday that an investigation into the actions of an officer who fired 15 shots into a stopped vehicle last September is "nearly complete," saying the force will take whatever action the probe recommends.
Saunders responded Thursday to specific questions from CBC News about the incident and the follow-up investigation.
"Once the results of the investigation are out, we will do whatever the investigation dictates or leads us to do," Saunders said following an event at police headquarters.
"Transparency is an important part of policing."
Toronto Police Association President Mike McCormack told CBC News earlier this week that the final report into the incident could be released within weeks.
The incident occurred at around 1 p.m. last Sept. 16, when officers pursued a car into the Distillery District at Parliament and Mill streets.
The car had just been stopped and was boxed in by fellow officers when an officer shot 15 rounds from his 9 mm pistol into the car's engine. The driver of the car was not hit.
As CBC News reported earlier this week, the officer's name is Const. Tash Baiati. He served in Afghanistan as a reserve member of the Canadian Forces more than 10 years ago.
CBC News also learned that Baiati has remained on active duty since the incident.
Saunders did not directly address whether that was standard procedure during an internal investigation, which is required every time an officer discharges a weapon.
"I'm not sure where he is right now," Saunders said. "But I am saying that if we think there are any types of investigations where there are issues of public trust or public safety, then we take the necessary actions that are appropriate for those types of investigations."
Steve Summerville, a retired staff sergeant from the Toronto Police Service and a use-of-force expert, said it is standard practice for an officer to remain on duty while under an investigation.
"There's no real threat to the community, or real threat to the officer himself," Summerville told CBC News.
However, firing a weapon at a vehicle "is not normal" for a police officer, Summerville said. Part of the training at the Ontario Police College is to teach officers not to shoot at a vehicle.
"The ammunition generally used in Ontario is not designed or intended to penetrate a motor vehicle," Summerville said. "The circumstances from the police officer's risk might be relevant enough to the point that you shoot to stop a driver, but not the vehicle itself."
A fellow officer could have been injured, with one in particular on the video appearing to jump back when the shots are fired, Summerville said.
"I haven't seen that through the eyes of the officer, I don't know what his risk, perceived or otherwise, was at that time," he said.
"But if the officer had the belief system at that time that he needed to discharge his weapon to protect himself or others, to prevent that vehicle from going in motion, that will be something for the officer to articulate."
Repeated attempts by CBC News to reach Baiati have been unsuccessful.