Ontario police watchdog not charging cop who fatally shot schizophrenic Mississauga man

Ontario’s police watchdog says it has no legal basis to charge a police officer who shot 62-year-old Ejaz Choudry to death in his Mississauga apartment building last summer.

Just after 5 p.m. on June 20, 2020, Choudry, who suffered from paranoia and schizophrenia, was in his apartment on Morningstar Drive with his family when his daughter called 911 that evening, requesting police and ambulance assistance, saying her father was not taking his medication.

The Special Investigations Unit says Choudry’s daughter, three sons and wife then left the apartment and one of the first officers at the scene reported that Choudry was still inside, holding a large kitchen knife.

Spotting the knife prompted a wider police response involving a canine unit, tactical officers and a Punjabi-speaking officer to interpret.

Attempts to negotiate Choudry’s exit from his home, where he would then be apprehended under the Mental Health Act and taken to hospital, were not successful.

He told an officer that he had taken his medication, he did not want to speak to his family and that police could not help him.

He also told an officer that they would need a court order to enter his home.

“He told the police that if they came in, they would watch what happens,” SIU Director Joseph Martino wrote in his report, citing the Punjabi-speaking officer who observed Choudry with a knife.

At 7:42 p.m., a crisis negotiator team was requested but officers at the scene were told it would be an hour before their arrival.

After 20 minutes without any contact from Choudry, tactical officers at the scene decided it was time for a “Deliberate Action Plan” to get him out of his home.

At 8:26 p.m., three heavily armed tactical officers were positioned on the balcony of Choudry’s apartment.

According to video footage obtained by SIU investigators, the officer who ultimately shot Choudry kicked the balcony door in.

“A dominant voice shouted, ‘Police, put the knife down, put the knife down, put it down.’ Then, two ARWEN rounds were heard being deployed followed by the shout, ‘Put it down.’ A third ARWEN round was deployed, immediately followed at the 11-second mark by two loud bangs coinciding with muzzle flashes from the (Subject officer’s) pistol from outside on the balcony,” the report states.

“According to the officers, Mr. Choudry had the knife extended towards the officers and immediately began moving in their direction,” SIU Director Joseph Martino wrote in his report.

The officers then fired a Taser, an ARWEN plastic projectile launcher and then two rounds from a handgun at Choudry.

The SIU says Choudry did not drop his knife after being shot and the blade was then kicked out of his hand by an officer after two more plastic projectiles were fired at him, something Martino called “troubling.”

Choudry was pronounced dead at the scene at 8:38 p.m.

“Following a thorough examination of the evidence, I am unable to form reasonable grounds to believe any (Peel Regional Police) officer committed a criminal offence in relation to Mr. Choudry’s death,” Martino wrote.

Family members told the SIU that Choudry was physically frail, and sometimes unable to walk without grabbing on to his immediate surroundings.

“Despite his frailty, Mr. Choudry was armed with an edged weapon, a kitchen knife with a 20-centimetre blade, which could cause grievous injury or death. At the time of the shooting, lesser use of force, including use of a (conducted energy weapon) and multiple ARWEN discharges, had failed to deter Mr. Choudry.”

Choudry’s death prompted outrage from both his family and the wider community, sparking mass demonstrations for days after in his neighbourhood and calls for a full inquiry.

SIU investigators interviewed nine civilian witnesses and 13 officers who responded to the scene, but the officer who shot Choudry declined to be interviewed or provide his notes.

Martino said “the real question” arising from the incident was whether the officer in charge of the scene was right to order officers to enter the apartment after 20 minutes of not hearing from Choudry, or was that order “criminally negligent.”

“The police were aware that Mr. Choudry was afraid of police. Moreover, there is the real possibility that Mr. Choudry was unable to understand the officers as they did not speak Punjabi. On the other hand, the hope was that the element of surprise would prevent Mr. Choudry from taking defensive action and that the use of multiple officers would mean there were more ‘less lethal’ use of force options to facilitate a safe apprehension should circumstances turn volatile.”

Martino said that concerns about the possibility Choudry would harm himself or was in medical distress warranted the decision to breach the apartment’s doors and locate him.

In its statement released Tuesday, Peel Regional Police say the decision to enter the home was made to bring Choudry to medical assistance.

“I extend my heartfelt condolences to Mr. Choudry’s family and friends,” Peel Regional Police Chief Nishan Duraiappah said Tuesday. “The pain and grief felt in the community and within our organization has been profound. We recognize that more has to be done to support those in crisis, and police should not be the primary responders called upon to manage mental health calls.”