SIU won't charge Toronto cop, despite reasonable grounds excessive force was used

(File photo)

Ontario's police watchdog says despite suspicion of excessive force by police during an arrest in February, it can't lay charges because it's unable to identify which officer is responsible. 

"The issue before me is whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that the Complainant was subjected to excessive force," Special Investigations Unit Director Joseph Martino said in his latest report. "I believe that test is met notwithstanding the countervailing, albeit equivocal, evidence from police witnesses. Nevertheless, I am unable to proceed with charges in this case." 

The finding stems from an incident on February 2nd, when members of Toronto Police's Major Crime Unit and Emergency Task Force officers were rescuing someone in a kidnapping operation at a residence in Richmond Hill (the hostage was located and freed.) 

During the operation, a 28-year-old man was confronted by officers and ordered to the ground at gunpoint. 

"The evidence is discrepant as to what happened next," the report said. 

The report says "incriminating evidence, if accepted as true" reveals he was fully compliant on the ground when he was kicked - possibly twice - and repeatedly punched. His injuries included multiple facial fractures and a fractured spine. 

But the document says the investigation was unable to identify exactly which of two officers would be responsible for various reasons. 

They include the officers having their faces covered with helmets, did not have their officer names or badge numbers plainly inscribed on their clothing and neither subject officer agreed to be interviewed (which is legally permitted.) 

"Simply put, while the investigation was able to establish that it was likely either SO #1 or SO #2 who delivered the impugned strikes, it could go no further in identifying who in particular was responsible for the blow or blows," the report says. "While I am satisfied there are reasonable grounds to believe that excessive force was used, I am unable to attribute said force to any one or more identifiable ETF officers."

So Martino is suggesting like what happened in the infamous Ipperwash Inquiry and the OPP, that better identification measures are taken. 

"Among its recommendations, the Inquiry called upon the OPP to “ensure that the names and badge numbers of officers at public order events should continue to be inscribed visibly and prominently on outer clothing or helmets," he said of the inquiry. "I see no reason why steps should not be taken to similarly ensure that tactical team officers wear insignia that can assist in identifying them; if not their names or badge numbers, then something else." 

Toronto Police cannot comment on whether it will accept the recommendation because an internal investigation is now underway following the SIU report. 

Interim Police Chief James Ramer is required to report those findings to the Toronto Police Services Board within 30 days, which the board make make available to the public. 

Former OPP Commissioner Chris Lewis said there is no reason why Toronto Police officers, even tactical members, should not have some sort of ID, such as a badge number on their uniforms. 

"I remember during G20 in Toronto in 2010, that became an issue as well," he said. 

Lewis said failure to have identification risks public trust and it doesn't have to be a person's name. 

"Badge numbers are different and so we said if you're not comfortable with your name, we'll let you put your badge number on, but you're going to have something," he said.