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Mississauga, ON (19 June, 2018) — The Director of the Special Investigations Unit, Tony Loparco, has determined there are no reasonable grounds to lay criminal charges against a Cobourg Police Service officer in relation to the death of a 24-year-old woman in May of 2017.
The SIU is an arm’s length agency that investigates reports involving police where there has been death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault. Under the Police Services Act, the Director of the SIU must
- consider whether an officer has committed a criminal offence in connection with the incident under investigation
- depending on the evidence, lay a criminal charge against the officer if appropriate or close the file without any charges being laid
- report the results of any investigations to the Attorney General.
Analysis and director’s decision
On May 24th, 2017, at approximately 9:47 a.m., a call was received by the Cobourg Police Service (CPS) from the Complainant indicating that shots were going to be fired at or near a residence in the Town of Cobourg. The Complainant did not identify herself to the dispatcher in that call. As a result, numerous police officers were sent to the address, including the Subject Officer (SO) and Witness Officer (WO) #6, and a perimeter was set up and the area surrounding the residence was contained. A second call came in to the CPS shortly thereafter from the Complainant indicating that she had an intention to shoot herself. Following this second call, the SO and WO #6 had an interaction with the Complainant, following which one gunshot was heard and the Complainant suffered severe trauma to her head resulting in her death.
Information received from family and friends of the Complainant revealed that she had been upset and depressed in the days leading up to May 24th, 2017, and she was seeking assistance from hospital and various churches, following which she attended the CPS to speak with the Chaplain.
When the Complainant arrived at the CPS at approximately 3:50 p.m. on the 22nd of May, 2017, she was described as upset and crying and WO #9 spoke to the Complainant for a considerable length of time in the soft interview room (a comfortable interview room reserved for vulnerable persons) wherein the Complainant advised WO #9 that she had thoughts of suicide but that she had not killed herself the previous weekend because she did not want her family to have to deal with the “mess” on her “deck”. The Complainant refused WO #9’s offer to take her to the hospital to speak with a crisis worker and advised him that she had already attended three churches looking for solace before she came to the police station.
Although the Complainant at no time indicated that she possessed a firearm, WO #9 felt it prudent to apprehend the Complainant under the Mental Health Act for her own safety, and he did so, after which he took her to the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. Upon attendance at the hospital, the Complainant was immediately triaged and then seen by a doctor in private. WO #9, in his interview, advised that the doctor saw the Complainant for four minutes, after which he advised that she was not suicidal and she was free to go. WO #9 then transported the Complainant back to the CPS station, where he put her in touch with the police chaplain, who arranged for follow-up contact.
On May 23rd, 2017, the Complainant again contacted the CPS and asked to be put in touch with WO #9, who received the message and called her back. The Complainant advised WO #9 that she was feeling “down” and wanted to come back to the station to speak with him; WO #9 agreed and set up the meeting. The Complainant was again taken to the soft interview room where she had another conversation with WO #9, which was recorded. On this occasion, the Complainant referred to the problems that she was having at work but did not repeat her intention to do self-harm or to commit suicide.
On May 24th, 2017, the Complainant first contacted the CPS at approximately 9:47 am to advise that there was going to be a shooting at or near her residence and asked to speak to WO #9; in this first call, the Complainant did not identify herself and, as she called in on the CPS administration line, the caller could not be identified, nor was the call recorded. WO #9, unfortunately, was off duty at the time and was at home sleeping after having just completed a 15-hour shift. Consequently, WO #6 was notified of the call and requested information about the rental units at the residence and dispatched a number of police officers to the area, including WO #5 and WO #8, followed by himself. The SO also immediately attended the scene. While en route, a second call was received by the CPS from the Complainant; in this second call the Complainant identified herself and indicated her intention to end her life by shooting herself.
A number of police cruisers were then situated so as to prevent any traffic from entering the area of the residence and a perimeter was set up outside of the residence. Shortly thereafter, the SO and WO #6 entered the residence and approached the apartment of the Complainant, where they knocked on the door and identified themselves as police and requested the Complainant to allow them entry. After several door knocks, without any response from within, and after calling the Complainant on her cell phone without any response, the SO and WO #6 breached the door, fearing for the well-being of the Complainant. The SO and WO #6 then entered the apartment, followed shortly thereafter by WO #5 and WO #8.
Once inside the residence, the SO and WO #6 searched for the Complainant. An open gun case was observed on the floor in the second bedroom with a detached gun barrel and the SO notified other officers that there might be someone with a firearm in the residence; two open but empty boxes of ammunition were also seen. WO #5 located the Complainant seated in a chair on the back deck with a shotgun positioned between her legs, with the barrel in her mouth, and the stock on the floor between her feet. The Complainant was observed to have the fingers of one hand in the trigger guard of the shotgun. WO #5 immediately alerted other officers to the presence of the Complainant and drew her firearm while shouting at the Complainant to “drop the gun”; WO #8 was crouched beside the refrigerator with his C8 rifle trained on the Complainant.
When the Complainant did not respond, WO #5 holstered her firearm and drew her Conducted Energy Weapon (CEW). WO #6 stood next to WO #8 with his CEW also drawn, but at his side and hidden from the Complainant’s view. The SO then approached and attempted to engage the Complainant in conversation by first asking her name, to which she responded with her first name, and then by asking her to put down the shotgun and come and speak with him. Over the course of the SO’s lengthy verbal interaction with the Complainant, he asked her repeatedly to put down the firearm, but she never responded and the barrel never left the area of her mouth. When she spoke, she removed the barrel from her mouth and rested it against her lower lip while she always kept at least two fingers on or near the trigger guard.
During her verbal interaction with the SO, the Complainant advised him that she did not want her mother to come home and find her. The SO described the Complainant as calm and he told her repeatedly that police were there to help her and no one would hurt her. While the SO attempted to engage with the Complainant, WO #6 used his police radio to request the police chaplain, a crisis negotiator, and a containment team.
WO #6 considered deploying his CEW but rejected that option as it was too risky; he determined that deployment of the CEW might lead to an accidental discharge of the firearm since the Complainant constantly kept her fingers on the trigger of the shotgun and the electric shock from the CEW would inevitably lead to muscle spasms.
The Complainant then requested to speak with WO #9, and WO #6 requested that the police dispatcher contact him; when there was no answer, WO #6 requested police officers be sent to his home to wake him so that he could attend and speak to the Complainant. At one point, the Complainant used her right hand to send a text message on her cell phone, but the fingers of her left hand never left the trigger of the shotgun.
WO #4, who was in a position to overhear the SO’s interaction with the Complainant, advised that she heard him say, “We are here to help you, what can we do to help?” and to leave the door open so he could see and talk to her. WO #4 also heard the SOoffer to get the Complainant a chaplain and heard him say, “Put it down, you are going to be okay. I’m scared too, please open the door so I can see you. Please look at me. Where is your mom?” The SO was also heard to tell the Complainant that they were going to get WO #9 to talk with her.
At approximately 11:00 a.m., the Complainant asked, “Have you ever seen anyone kill themselves before? Shooting themselves in the head?” and when the SO responded in the negative, the Complainant put the shotgun back in her mouth, closed her eyes, and began to hum a song, after which she pulled the trigger. WO #6 noted the time of the shotgun blast as 11:19 a.m. The blast caused massive trauma to her head and the Complainant then fell forward onto the deck.
There is no dispute that only one firearm discharge was ever heard, that being from the shotgun of the Complainant, and that no police officer discharged their firearm at any time. Seven of the WOs located either inside the residence or in the back yard of the residence observed the Complainant with the shotgun in her mouth and heard the single fatal shot. The single gunshot was also confirmed as having been heard by six civilian witnesses who lived in the area.
Unfortunately, WO #9 only awoke at 11:15 a.m., whereupon he noticed that he had received a number of text messages, missed calls, and voicemail on his cell phone. He then got up and dressed and called WO #6 before leaving the house, whereupon he heard of the death of the Complainant.
An examination of the scene by SIU forensic investigators located three notes authored by the Complainant, including a suicide note, a will indicating how she wished her property and her remains to be disposed of, and a consent for both of her parents to have access to her financial matters. In her suicide note, the Complainant clearly indicated that she “could not take this any longer” and that her death was not the fault of any one person.
A post-mortem examination carried out on the body of the Complainant confirmed the cause of death as “an intraoral shotgun wound to the head”, meaning the gunshot originated from inside her mouth, which was consistent with the observations of both the SO, and all WOs, that the Complainant had the shotgun barrel inside her mouth at the time that she pulled the trigger.
It is clear, on a review of all of the evidence, that the Complainant had decided to take her own life and had planned and taken all steps to carry out her intention, from writing out a suicide note, a will and a consent form, to contacting police in order that her mother not be the one to locate her body and to loading and arming herself with a shotgun. On all of the evidence, it is clear that the Complainant was struggling due to some incidents from her childhood, as well as her current work situation and personal issues. While the Complainant sought out many resources to counsel her and help her to deal with her situation in the days leading up to her death, including reaching out to psychiatrists, religious persons, and the police, in the end it is clear that she was unable to come to terms with her situation and decided to end her life. While it is unclear what exactly pushed the Complainant to the brink and caused her to resort to the drastic decision to end her own life, it is clear that the senior officers tasked with attempting to save the life of the Complainant, and the officers under them, did all that they could to try to save her life.
On all of the evidence, it is clear that the Complainant took her own life without any intervention by police. It is further clear that the Complainant, with the shotgun barrel constantly either in her mouth or resting against her lower lip with her fingers on the trigger, left police with no safe options to which they could resort to attempt to disarm the Complainant, other than to try and convince her to abandon her plan.
Both the SO and WO #6 followed all procedures as set out in their policy guidelines and reached out for all resources at their disposal to try and assist the Complainant, and cannot be held responsible for her actions in fulfilling her intention to end her own life. On all of the evidence, it is clear that the SO spoke with the Complainant at length and with both calm and compassion, and that he never abandoned his attempts to save her life, until after she had pulled the trigger causing her death.
Additionally, on the evidence, it is clear that WO #6 behaved prudently in rejecting the use of his CEW to attempt to disarm the Complainant, due to the inherent risks that the use of that ‘less lethal use of force’ option in the circumstances could tragically lead to the ending of the life that they were trying to save. As such, there are no grounds here, reasonable or otherwise, for the consideration of criminal charges and even less so for the laying of them.
Having said that, I would like to take a moment to address the actions of WO #9 who, in my estimation, went above and beyond the call of duty to attempt to assist the Complainant in a patient, professional, and compassionate manner. His actions included spending a lengthy period of time conversing with the Complainant on May 22nd, followed by his immediate response to the Complainant’s second call for help on May 23rd and another lengthy conversation. He made offers of many different types of intervention to attempt to assist the Complainant including his subsequent decision to apprehend the Complainant under the Mental Health Act and to take her to hospital, where he remained with her until she was discharged, and then returning her to the station and offering her further assistance including putting her in touch with the police chaplain. Moreover, his getting up on his day off, after having worked a 15 hour shift, with the intent of rushing to the scene to assist the Complainant in her ultimate time of crisis, speaks of a dedication and compassion that is a tribute to the CPS and policing services everywhere. As such, I would like to take this opportunity to commend WO #9 for his actions, despite the tragic outcome, and acknowledge that his patience and unflagging willingness to assist the Complainant likely brought her great comfort in her final hours, as witnessed by the fact that she again sought him out just prior to taking her life.
Date: March 22, 2018
Original signed by
Special Investigations Unit