Sudbury police cleared in case where woman had miscarriage after being arrested

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Greater Sudbury Police have been cleared following an investigation into a 2019 incident in which a pregnant woman was tripped and fell to the ground during an arrest, and later had a miscarriage.

The incident took place outside of a college residence in the city on June 25, 2019. The Special Investigations Unit, which investigates police in Ontario, was called in five days later when the miscarriage occurred.

It was a well-documented incident. The woman posted a 30-minute video of the encounter she took with her cellphone to social media, and campus security cameras also captured the incident.

Police met with the woman in the parking lot outside of the residence. They were there for two reasons: to investigate a complaint the woman had made about an alleged sexual assault involving her infant child, and to back up child welfare authorities who were there to ensure the pregnant woman's other two children were safe.

 "Shortly after the meeting began, (the woman) grew agitated with the officers, fearing the authorities were only there to remove her children," the SIU's incident narrative said. The woman "argued with the officers and decried what she believed was an injustice being perpetrated on her and her family."

Police told her that she wasn't under arrest, but they would need to do a wellness check on the children before they left.

The woman became extremely upset when a child welfare worker arrived to check on the children.

A female police supervisor arrived after the woman demanded to speak with a supervisor, but the situation continued to escalate.

"Believing (the supervisor) was unsympathetic to her concerns, (the woman) continued to speak loudly and protest what the officers were doing," the SIU said. "The clamour caught the attention of people in the vicinity and employees of the college, some of whom neared the scene to see what was happening."

Warned by police

Police warned her to stop causing a disturbance or she would be arrested, and asked to move their discussion inside the residence, but she refused.

The child welfare worker offered to speak with her away from police, but only if she agreed not to record her conversation with her cellphone. She refused.

At that point, the woman's partner went inside and brought out food and some documents, and police were able to look inside the residence from the "doorway and saw no evidence of drug use or unsatisfactory living conditions," the SIU report said.

At that point, the woman picked up the food and tried to walk away from police and back inside the residence. One officer blocked her path and she was told if she tried to leave again she would be arrested.

A few seconds later, she was told she was under arrest and a struggle with police ensued. One of the officers tripped her as she tried to leave and she hit the ground face first. She was then handcuffed and taken away.

She was taken to Health Sciences North "where she was examined, cleared medically and then released from police custody on a promise to appear," the report said.

Child born prematurely

She gave birth to a premature baby June 30, and the child passed away 90 minutes later. At that point, the SIU was called in.

In his decision, SIU Director Joseph Martino wrote that there were likely reasonable grounds to arrest the woman for disturbing the peace.

"Indeed, moments prior to the arrest, (police) had expressly warned (the woman) that she would be taken into custody for causing a disturbance if she did not desist in her behaviour," Martino wrote.

"The issue is whether (the woman's) detention was lawful. If it was not, then, arguably, it ill-behooved the police to apprehend (the woman) for vociferously objecting to a detention that she had a right to protest."

Police were on the scene, in part, to help with a child welfare investigation, he wrote. And those authorities had been trying to contact her without success.

"It is also noteworthy that the detention was not overly intrusive," Martino said. "The police provided (the woman) an opportunity to wait inside her home and did not physically engage her. In this context, I am unable to find the initial detention of (the woman) unjustifiable."

In addition, the child welfare worker had indicated she planned to apprehend the children because of concerns for their welfare.

The next issue to be determined was whether the amount of force used to take the woman into custody – tripping her -- was reasonable.

Greater restraint needed

"While (the police officer) might better have been advised to exercise greater restraint, particularly as he appears to have known that (the woman) was pregnant, the fact remains that (she) was intent on resisting what she believed was oppressive conduct on the part of the officers, as was amply demonstrated when she bit or attempted to bite (another officer) after being taken to the ground," Martino wrote.

"Accordingly, I am of the view that the tactic was not unreasonable given the situation at hand."

A pathologist's report concluded the baby died of "prematurity of undetermined cause."

"In arriving at that conclusion, the pathologist noted that it was unclear whether allegations of an assault by police officers during (the woman's) arrest on June 25, 2019, played any role in the complainant’s prematurity. In any event, as I am not satisfied on reasonable grounds that the officers who dealt with (the woman) on the day of her arrest committed a criminal offence, there are no grounds for proceeding with charges in this case and the file is closed."

Read the full report here.