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Thunder Bay police cleared in incident that left suspect with skull fracture

The suspect ended up with a small skull fracture when his head hit this flashlight, the Special Investigations Unit said. (SIU photo) The suspect ended up with a small skull fracture when his head hit this flashlight, the Special Investigations Unit said. (SIU photo)
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Police in Thunder Bay have been cleared in an incident in which a domestic violence suspect ended up with a skull fracture when he tried to flee police.

The incident took place June 10, 2023, when police responded to an early morning call near River Street and High Street North in the city.

“The occupant of the home had called police to report that a female had rung his front doorbell asking that he call police,” the Special Investigations Unit said in a release Wednesday.

“She was with a male and the two had been yelling outside his house.”

Police arrived and located the woman and the man, who were on a grassy median on the south side of the street.

Officers “began to question them about the call to police.”

The man was instructed to sit down while police interviewed the woman. Once that interview was complete, the officer made his way back to the man, who is the complainant in the case.

“Fearing he was about to be arrested, the complainant stood up and ran westward on the roadway,” the SIU said.

“The (officer) ran after the complainant. He held a flashlight in his right hand. The officer caught up with the complainant and took him to the ground, his flashlight striking the complainant’s head in the process. The complainant’s head began to bleed after the strike.”

The suspect was handcuffed on the ground, then got up and walked to the police cruiser and sat in the back seat.

“He was subsequently transported to hospital and diagnosed with a skull fracture,” the SIU said.

Interviews with the complainant and video footage from the scene led the SIU to clear the officer of wrongdoing.

“On my assessment of the evidence, there are no reasonable grounds to believe that the (officer) committed a criminal offence in connection with the complainant’s arrest and injury,” SIU director Joseph Martino wrote in his decision.

“It is apparent that the complainant was being detained when he decided to flee what he believed was his impending arrest.”

Police can arrest people they believe have committed an offence, and Martino said the evidence showed the arrest was lawful.

Was being lawfully detained

“In the instant case, I am satisfied the complainant was being lawfully detained for impaired operation of a motor vehicle,” Martino wrote.

“His companion (the woman) had told police that the complainant had been drinking, the complainant was unsteady on his feet, and both parties had arrived at the scene in a SUV.”

Once he tried to flee, police had the right to prevent the complainant from escaping arrest.

“The takedown, per se, was a legitimate tactic,” Martino said.

“The complainant was running away from the officer attempting to escape, and the officer was entitled to bring his flight to an end by forcing him down. The impact of the … flashlight with the complainant’s head is less readily reconciled with reasonable force.”

If police had intentionally hit the suspect with the flashlight, that would arguably be an assault, Martino said.

But “according to the officer, when he caught the complainant and grabbed his waistband, the complainant turned, raised an arm and lunged towards him,” the decision said.

“Concerned that the complainant might be in possession of a weapon – a not unreasonable concern given the presence of a knife that the officers had located in the SUV before the complainant’s arrest – the (officer) lifted his right arm to block and repel the complainant’s forward movement.”\

Body cam video was 'choppy'

While video from the officer’s body cam was “choppy,” Martino wrote that there was not sufficient evidence to show the use of the flashlight was anything but accidental.

“On this record, I am not satisfied that the evidence of intentional use of the flashlight is sufficiently cogent to warrant being put to the test by a court,” he said.

“In the result, as there are no reasonable grounds to believe that the (officer) comported himself other than within the limits of the criminal law throughout his engagement with the complainant … The file is closed.”

Read the full decision here.

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