No charges against Toronto police after SIU investigation into man's death

No charges against Toronto police after SIU investigation into man's death

The province's police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), has cleared 10 Toronto police officers of wrongdoing in the death of 43-year old Rodrigo Almonacid.

Almonacid was arrested after a domestic incident at his apartment near Bloor Street West and Lansdowne Avenue on Nov. 6, 2015. Police detained him after he was tasered multiple times. He was taken away on a stretcher and died in hospital the next day.

Almonacid's relatives say they saw him with bruises on his body and blackened eyes in hospital and they alleged police brutality in the case;. 

But the SIU announced Thursday that no charges will be laid against the officers and said it found no evidence of excessive force. 

"There exists no evidentiary basis that allows me to attribute either the injuries or the death ... to the use of excessive force by the police," wrote Tony Loparco, director of the SIU, in his report detailing the case. 

The report was based on testimony from witnesses, security camera footage from the apartment building, a 12 minute audio recording of the arrest and the coroner's report on Almonacid's death. 

While Almonacid appeared to be seriously injured after the arrest, the forensic pathologist said that wasn't the cause of his death. Instead, the pathologist's report says cocaine found in Almonacid's system led to acute cocaine toxicity. 

What happened during the arrest

The SIU's report says a Toronto police officer first went to the home of Almonacid and his wife, Susanna Chavarria, at 10 Dora Ave. after a fight had broken out. 

The officer found a destroyed apartment and Almonacid barricaded inside the bathroom, refusing to put down a toilet lid he had over his head.

Emergency Task Force (ETF) members were called in to negotiate; police were worried that he might hurt himself after seeing him "sitting on the edge of the bathtub with blood on his hands, face and head," and they considered Almonacid's behaviour "erratic," according to the report. 

ETF members broke down the bathroom door and said Almonacid was holding a weapon — a six inch screwdriver —  in his right hand. They shoved him into the bathtub with a riot shield and used their tasers eight times on Almonacid who reportedly "began lashing out and punching the officers."

The report also said there is no evidence that police hit Almonacid beyond striking him with the riot shield and tasering him. 

Laparco said Almonacid was given the chance to end the standoff and that police acted lawfully when they forced their way into the bathroom. He also said that the eight taser charges weren't an excessive use of force by police after listening to the audio recording of the arrest. 

Despite finding that police didn't commit an offence, the director of the SIU did have one outstanding question — whether or not Almonacid was holding a screwdriver, as the ETF officer said, and whether he meant to use it as a weapon. 

Family plans civil suit, lawyer says

The Almonacid family didn't accept the explanation from police in 2015 and through their lawyer, Kevin Wolf, say they don't accept the SIU's report now. 

Wolf told CBC Toronto Thursday the family takes issue with multiple parts of the investigation, including the two officers on scene who didn't co-operate with the SIU. 

"That is [the officers'] legal right," Wolf explained, but added that from the family's point of view the lack of notes from those officers would "compromise the ability of the SIU to fairly and completely investigate this matter."

The Almonacid family also disputed the account of the screwdriver being used as a weapon. 

"There was no weapon ever brandished by Rodrigo and I know the SIU did not recover the alleged screwdriver," Wolf said, adding that the family does not believe Almonacid's injuries played no factor in his death. 

As a response, the family has served a statement of claim to the Toronto Police Services Board and says it plans on launching a civil suit against police.