ASIRT Concludes EPS Use of Force Incident

ASIRT Concludes EPS Use of Force Incident

On Dec. 8, 2015, the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) was directed to enter into an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of a 49-year-old man following involvement in a critical incident involving contact with members of the Edmonton Police Service (EPS). Within approximately 2 minutes, 55 seconds of being fully restrained, the man went into medical distress and ultimately, did not survive.

In order to understand the context of some of the events on Dec. 7 and 8, 2015, it is necessary to address, briefly, a prior incident that occurred shortly before the one in question. On Oct. 30, 2015, a family member of the 49-year-old man contacted police advising that man was at a city casino and was either high on drugs or having a mental breakdown. Officers responded and found the man to appear to be paranoid and delusional. An ambulance was requested and the man was arrested under the Mental Health Act. He resisted and he exhibited significant strength such that it required four officers to restrain him and place him in handcuffs. During the arrest, the man bit one officer and spat in the face of one of the ambulance attendants. He was taken to hospital, seen by medical personnel who ultimately released the man back into the custody of police the same day. The man was charged with offences arising from his assault on the officer and the EMS attendant. A psychological assessment after this incident identified an unspecified psychosis possibly linked to substance abuse.

On Dec. 7, 2015 at approximately 6 p.m., the man came home from work. At the time, the only people present at the home were the man and a teenage child. Over the next approximately five hours, the man, at times agitated and aggressive, voiced paranoid and delusional thoughts and engaged in erratic behaviours. The delusions revolved around his spouse, his neighbors, satanic cults, a possible intruder and other irrational thoughts. The man had displayed similar delusional beliefs and erratic behaviours in the past in conjunction with the use of crystal meth. Shortly after 11 p.m., the man’s behaviours escalated. He called a family member and after a brief discussion handed the phone to the teenage child, went outside and yelled at a nearby home.

When the man returned, he armed himself with a large kitchen knife. He was described as yelling “Help me” and pounding on the wall and back door window. He indicated he was scared for his life and searched his teenage child based on a belief that the child might have a gun. He made the teenager sit on the floor of the kitchen and moved surrounding objects, including the kitchen table, out of reach. While armed with the knife, he dragged the teenager across the kitchen floor by the hoodie and kept the teenager within arm’s reach.

At 11:22 p.m., the man called 911 and a short and extremely disjointed conversation took place where the man at one point told the operator that his wife was in trouble “right now” and to send police and the fire department. To be clear, the wife was not home at the time. He then indicated that he did not want the assistance of police, only the fire department and to send them to a neighbor’s address, which he provided to the dispatcher. When the dispatcher asked what address he was calling from, the man hung up. The dispatcher attempted to make contact with the man again, but the phone went to voicemail.

Approximately 10 minutes later, a 911 call came from one of the man’s neighbors reporting what he believed to be people yelling at each other from inside the man’s residence, with a male person calling for help. The neighbor indicated there were sounds of banging on the floor or wall and indicated that although he had heard his neighbors arguing in the past, this was worse than usual.

Two officers were dispatched. While on route, one of the officers, recognizing the man’s name, checked police records and confirmed he had dealt with the same man at the casino approximately six weeks earlier. Having confirmed this to be the same man, the officer requested additional assistance. In addition to other officers who indicated they could respond, an officer who was familiar with the family indicated that he would respond as he had a rapport with them as felt he might be able to assist in diffusing whatever situation might be occurring.

Ultimately three police units arrived on scene at approximately 11:54 p.m. From the front porch, officers could hear yelling and screaming coming from inside. Some of the officers remained at the front of the residence while others went to the back yard. One of the officers banged on the front door but no one answered. The officer then heard a yell for help and a loud scream from inside.

One of the officers who had responded to the rear door of the residence had a clear view of the man through a full panel glass door. The man was observed to be pacing back and forth and from side to side, in front of the back door. He was holding a large knife in his right hand, while he hit the glass of the door with his left hand. This information was broadcast to members. This officer took out his police issued sidearm and held it in the low ready position. A second officer at the rear door pulled out his conducted energy weapon (CEW), commonly known as a Taser. The first officer called out to the man telling him to calm down and to drop the knife. The man was screaming and hitting the glass of the door with his left hand. At one point the man reached for the door knob but appeared unable to get the door to open. The man’s movements were described as frantic and aggressive. He brought the knife to his throat looking back and forth between the back door and the inside northwest corner of the residence. He appeared agitated, distraught, and confused.

While officers at the rear of the residence were trying to give directions to the man, officers at the front door attempted to force entry without success. The man continued screaming, and was observed to bring the knife up to his neck and then shift to holding it out in front of himself in a threatening manner. His movements were described as abrupt and sharp, as if he was not entirely in control of himself. He did not appear to be rational or responsive, and the first officer was unable to engage him verbally.

Upon hearing that the man was armed with a knife, and after the unsuccessful attempt to force entry, officers at the front of the house made the decision to smash out the glass in the front door and unlock it. As the first officer stepped into the house, he saw the man in the kitchen. He indicated that the man appeared out of control, in a panicked state, and was armed with a knife in his right hand. This officer also directed the man to drop the knife but he did not respond.

The officer observed the teenager sitting on the kitchen floor, tucked up against the cabinets, in a curled up position. The teenager was in very close proximity to the man, and repeatedly asked the officers not to shoot, indicating the man was on drugs, and asking officers to use their “Tasers”. As this was happening, the man continued yelling and screaming incoherently.

Throughout this encounter, the man was observed to brandish the knife aggressively at times towards himself, towards the teenager, and towards the officers. At points, it appeared the man might be preparing to lunge towards police. Based on the man’s non-responsive, incoherent and erratic behavior and his close proximity to the child, officers believed the child to be at immediate risk and decided to deploy their CEWs as a less than lethal option to disarm the man.

An officer called for the teenager to come to him, which the teenager did without interference, and he was removed from the room.  The teenager told the officer his father had taken a bunch of medication and asked that they not hurt him.

At the same time, three officers deployed their CEWs. It was hoped that CEW deployment would achieve Neuromuscular Incapacitation (NMI) – which in layman’s terms is when the body ‘locks up’ and is incapable of normal muscular function. All three deployed their CEWs repeatedly but the man was not incapacitated, not allowing the officers to get close enough to disarm him nor causing him to drop the knife. The man made overt suicidal motions by attempting to slash his neck with the knife causing it to begin to bleed.

One of the officers who entered through the back door was able to reposition himself closer to the man and deploy his CEW successfully, incapacitating the man which resulted in him dropping the knife. The man lay on his back on the ground with the knife having fallen several inches away from the right side of his body. The man was immediately placed into handcuffs.

Once handcuffed, he was rolled onto his side into the recovery position. He was conscious and breathing. The man suddenly let out a loud scream and began kicking violently. He was put in leg restraints all the while struggling and very agitated. Given his history of biting and spitting, one officer attempted to put a spit mask on, but the man bit down on the mask as it was being pulled down his face so the officer was unable to get the spit mask down past his mouth. The man was rolled back into the recovery position.

Based on witness statements and radio communications, within approximately 2 minutes and 55 seconds, the man went into medical distress. The restraints were immediately removed and CPR was commenced. Police had already called for Emergency Medical Services (EMS) earlier, who were staged a short distance away, waiting for clearance to enter the residence once rendered safe. As such, immediate medical attention was provided by both police and EMS personnel. The man was transported to hospital where he was declared deceased.

On autopsy, a number of superficial cuts/marks, consistent with the large serrated kitchen knife recovered at the scene, were located on the man’s neck. These did not contribute to the cause of death. The man also exhibited rib fractures that were consistent with the application of CPR. It was determined that there were no observable injuries present that would have contributed or caused the death. Given the location of the CEW probe sites and the overall findings in this case, it is the opinion of the OCME that the use of the CEWs did not cause or contribute to the death. Considering the circumstances, history and autopsy findings, it is the opinion of the OCME that the man died as a result of excited delirium syndrome that was due to methamphetamine toxicity; struggle during police restraint was considered a significant contributory condition.

ASIRT executive director, Ms. Susan D. Hughson, Q.C., received the completed ASIRT investigation and after a careful review of all the evidence has come to a number of conclusions.

An officer is authorized to use force in doing what he or she is authorized to do provided the officer uses only as much force is reasonably necessary.

In this case, all of the officers were lawfully placed and acting in the execution of their duties. They had attended the residence in response to two 911 calls, one from the man himself, and one from a neighbour. When they attended the location, they found the man clearly distressed, armed, and in a position to cause harm to himself and/or anyone else that might be present in the residence. They had received information from the neighbour that made it reasonable to believe that there might be more than one person in the residence. Additionally, upon arrival, they heard screaming that led them to believe that there might be more than one person present.

The man appeared incoherent, irrational and agitated. He was holding a large knife in a manner consistent with its use as a weapon to cause harm. It is my opinion the officers had a duty to act.

In the exigent circumstances, entry into the home was clearly required. Entrance into the home revealed an even more dangerous situation, as it confirmed the presence of the man’s teenage child on the floor, clearly in distress in close proximity to man. While the teenager may have believed that the man would not harm them, the man was clearly delusional, uncontrolled and irrational so his conduct could not be reasonably predicted, other than to note the man’s behaviour could be objectively viewed as aggressive and threatening to himself, the teenager and the officers.

It is clear the man was distressed, agitated, and armed with a potentially lethal weapon, and had the means to cause death or grievous bodily harm to anyone present in the residence, including himself. It is also very clear the officers hoped to resolve the situation without significant harm to anyone. Officers first utilized the CEWs as a less than lethal response, with the presence of service firearms as a lethal option should the situation deteriorate. The officers did everything that could have reasonably been done to resolve the situation without serious injury or death to the man.

The officers also attempted to resolve the situation and control and restrain the man as quickly and safely possible, with a view to achieving a positive outcome without additional significant injury to anybody, including the man.

While arguably a struggle can aggravate excited delirium syndrome as a result of methamphetamine toxicity, this was not a protracted struggle and the evidence suggests the officers acted quickly and reasonably in the circumstances. To the extent that police actions, in attempting to gain control and restrain the man, contributed to his death, I would note that the evidence strongly supports the following conclusions:

  • All officers present were lawfully placed and in the lawful execution of their duties.
  • The force used was reasonably necessary and proportionate. Indeed, the resort to less than lethal force should be commended.
  • At the time, the man constituted a threat of death or grievous bodily harm to any person present.
  • Emergency medical attention was immediately available.
  • Everything that could reasonably have been done was done to attempt to resolve the situation without serious injury or death to the man. Unfortunately, excited delirium syndrome as a result of methamphetamine toxicity was not something the officers could control and the man, in that state, presented the same risk, if not a greater risk, to everyone, including himself, such that the officers were compelled to intervene.
  • The man was in need of medical attention but medical intervention was not possible unless and until the man had been disarmed and safely contained.

This finding in no way diminishes the tragedy of this event and the fact that a family has been left grieving the loss of their loved one. On behalf of ASIRT, the executive director extends condolences to the family and friends of the deceased in relation to this tragic event.

ASIRT’s mandate is to effectively, independently, and objectively investigate incidents involving Alberta’s police that have resulted in serious injury or death to any person, as well as serious or sensitive allegations of police misconduct.