‘D’Andre deserved better’: Families of mentally ill men killed by Peel police call for change following SIU report

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The uncle of a Mississauga man killed by Peel police late last year says it’s time for change after Ontario’s police watchdog this week criticized how Peel officers handled a call that ended with the shooting death of another mentally ill man.

William Owusu, the uncle of Clive Mensah, who died after being Tasered by Peel officers in his Mississauga neighbourhood in November 2019 said the Special Investigations Unit report into the shooting death of D’Andre Campbell underscores the need for the provincial government to rethink legislation that allows only police to apprehend a person in mental health crisis and take them to hospital.

“The police need to be trained more,” Owusu told the Star. “They have to send someone trained, someone who has experience and has been trained properly for that type of call.”

In a statement to the Canadian Press, Campbell’s family also called for change. “D’Andre deserved better,” they said. “Some of the most vulnerable people in our communities deserve better.”

Campbell would’ve celebrated his 27th birthday Thursday, the Canadian Press reported.

SIU director Joseph Martino concluded Monday that the Peel officer who killed Campbell was acting in self-defence when he shot the 26-year-old mentally ill Brampton man during a call for a domestic disturbance inside a Brampton home on April 6. According to the SIU account, Campbell was holding a knife and was shot after the officer failed to subdue him with their Tasers.

SIU director Joseph Martino however highlighted problems with how the officers handled a person they were told had a history of mental illnesses.

According to the SIU report, the officers were advised Campbell had schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and that on an earlier police visit he had not been taking his medication and was aggressive with family members.

“Though they knew that Mr. Campbell suffered from mental illness and was likely in an agitated condition, they did not confer with each other about the approach they would take once inside the home,” Martino wrote. “Moreover, once in the kitchen, the (subject officer) immediately began to order Mr. Campbell to put the knife down. At no point was there any effort made to verbally calm Mr. Campbell.”

Despite this, Martino noted the SIU’s mandate remains focused on the conduct of the individuals, not the merits or failings of the system within which they operate.

Through their lawyer, Jeremy Solomon, Campbell’s family said it takes issue with some parts of the SIU’s version of events. Solomon wouldn’t specify which portions, however, citing the possibility of upcoming civil action.

The finding left David Smith, CEO, Canadian Mental Health Association Peel Dufferin, questioning how service providers could have helped Campbell earlier, and what programs can be put in place to reduce the reliance on police to respond to mental health crises.

“The report also highlights the need to have mental health expertise available to 911 call-takers to assist with decisions on how to support a person in a mental health crisis,” Smith said.

For Ena Chadha, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the fact the officers failed to use communication strategies or de-escalate at the outset of the interaction with Campbell reinforces the imperative for the province to rethink its approach.

“The province needs to require all police services to adopt a pro-mental health model, which must include establishing provincial standards for anti-discrimination education and mental health training,” she said.

Owusu said that while he agrees police should be at the scene of some mental health crisis calls, he believes officers should be accompanied by a crisis worker and themselves undergo specialized training in de-escalating those types of volatile situations.

Meanwhile, after more than a year, he’s still waiting for answers about his nephew’s death. “We’ve been so worried about the whole situation,” Owusu said.

According to initial reports, Mensah died after police were called to a noise complaint near where he rented a basement apartment on Nov. 20, 2019.

According to the SIU account, officers attempted to communicate with him before a struggle ensued, during which they “used several use-of-force options, including deployment of a conducted energy weapon.”

Mensah went unconscious soon after he was arrested, and was pronounced dead in hospital.

The file is still under review by the SIU, spokesperson Monica Hudon said Wednesday.

Mensah’s family have said Mensah experienced worsening mental health issues, especially after his father’s death in Ghana in 2015, followed the next year by the loss of his mother, who also died in Ghana.

In his response to the Campbell investigation, Peel police Chief Nishan Duraiappah acknowledged gaps in mental health services. “There are gaps in the human services systems that must be addressed or we will face similar tragic circumstances again in the future,” he said.

This year, Peel Regional police launched Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Teams that pair crisis workers with uniform officers.

The teams responded to 1,700 calls between their introduction in January and October, with only 22 per cent of those calls ending in someone being apprehended, a report to the board said. There is work underway to expand the team in the new year.

Jason Miller, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Toronto Star