Officer who broke man's jaw with baton during traffic stop was 'unduly aggressive' but justified in using force: SIU
An officer who broke a man’s jaw with a baton during a traffic stop in Etobicoke has been cleared of criminal wrongdoing but the province’s police watchdog is nonetheless rebuking him for “needlessly escalating what was already a tense situation.”
The incident, much of which was captured on camera, happened on Ridgevalley Crescent just east of Islington Avenue on the morning of August 14, 2020.
SIU Director Joseph Martino said in his report that the subject officer was conducting speed enforcement with a radar gun when he motioned to the complainant, a 71-year-old man, to pull over.
He said that the complainant was “not happy about being pulled over” and grew increasingly irate with the officer as he hurled profanity at him.
At one point the officer asked for a driver’s licence and registration but when the complaint repeatedly asked “what is that?” the officer grew frustrated and threatened to issue him a ticket for each document he failed to produce.
“You have ten more seconds… Five more seconds,” the officer is heard saying in an audio recording of the incident.
Martino said that the man did eventually produce the documentation the officer was requesting.
But at that point the officer took issue with the man’s licence plate, which he said was not fully visible.
He also said that one of the documents was not “legal” because it had not been signed.
“That’s another offence. Speeding. Seatbelt. Fail to…” he said prior to being interrupted by the complainant with a string of profanities.
After the dispute continued for a few minutes, Martino said that the complainant stepped out of the car and continued to grow “belligerent.”
Martino said that the officer repeatedly asked him to get back into his car but the man refused and hurled profanity at the officer.
He then advanced to within “an arm’s length of the officer,” at which point the officer swung his baton twice, Martino said.
In his report, Martino said that the evidence indicates that the officer did not intend to hit the complainant in the area of his jaw and was in fact aiming at his torso, only to “inadvertently” strike him in the head.
He said that he is satisfied that the officer “was entitled to resort to a measure of force to defend himself from what would have been a reasonably apprehended attack” and that the swings of his baton were not “excessive in the circumstances.”
However, Martino did take issue with the officer’s dealings with the complainant, which he said were “unduly aggressive” and “needlessly” escalated the situation.
“At one point, for example, he started a countdown from ten seconds – the time he gave the complainant to produce some paperwork or be ticketed for failing to do so. While the subject officer was still entitled to defend himself notwithstanding these errors in judgment, I will be raising these matters with the chief of police,” he said.
Martino spoke to six civilian witnesses and four officer witnesses in compiling his report.
The subject officer declined to participate in an interview or hand over his notes.