TORONTO — The province's police watchdog says there are no reasonable grounds to charge Toronto police officers in the death of a 43-year-old man who was Tasered eight times after barricading himself in a bathroom.
The Special Investigations Unit says police responded to a frantic 911 call just after midnight on Nov. 6, 2015, and found an apartment unlocked and various items and pieces of furniture strewn about.
The SIU says an officer heard a noise coming from the bathroom, called out and received no response but after managing to force the door open slightly, saw Rodrigo Almonacid Gonzalez standing inside alone, holding a toilet lid above his head.
A witness told officers that Gonzalez had allegedly gone on a rampage, smashing everything in the apartment, and that he had recently used cocaine.
The SIU says that when Emergency Task Force officers forced their way into the bathroom, one officer indicated Gonzalez was holding a screwdriver. The officer raised his riot shield for protection, causing Gonzalez to fall into the bathtub which had about 12 centimetres of water in it.
Gonzalez was Tasered five times by one officer and three times by another before he could be subdued and taken to hospital where he died the next day of complications due to acute cocaine toxicity. The SIU said a post-mortem report on the man did not indicate that Tasers played any role in Gonzalez's death.
Despite the lack of charges in the case, SIU director Tony Loparco said he did have concerns about the incident when the investigation began.
"I have no concerns whatsoever with the conduct of the police up to the point of the forced entry into the bathroom," Loparco said Thursday in a release. "The initial police response to the 911 call was both prompt and sensible."
Loparco also said the ETF officer who began negotiations with Gonzalez was calm and candid, and directed his efforts towards both assessing the man's well-being and having him exit the bathroom of his own accord.
"Gonzalez was provided with ample opportunity to end the standoff situation, but he decided not to do so," Loparco said, adding that the decision to forcibly enter the bathroom was lawful.
"The conduct of the officers once they entered the bathroom is more difficult to assess," he said, noting that only one of the officers indicated that Gonzalez had a screwdriver which could have been used as a weapon.
Loparco said the officer made it clear that Gonzalez did not overtly threaten him with the screwdriver, but the officer's response was to thrust his riot shield at the man to protect himself, sending Gonzalez backwards into the bathtub.
"The audio recording captures an intense and protracted struggle from that point onwards, which lasted for approximately two minutes and 30 seconds," he said. "It captured the officer with the riot shield calling out for a CEW to be deployed, the sounds of an initial discharge, a second discharge and associated screaming from Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez."
Loparco said he was concerned by the "multiple and overlapping discharges applied to an individual who was wet and in a pool of water at the time."
However, he said the post-mortem report assuaged his concerns regarding the physiological effects of the Taser use.
"Ultimately, I am left in a position where I do not have evidence that reflects excessive use of force," Loparco said.
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.
Peter Cameron , The Canadian Press