No criminal charges for officers in death of Black man with mental illness Tasered in own backyard

·7 min read
The family of Clive Mensah, 30, has been demanding answers since he died in November 2019 after being Tasered during a struggle with police outside his home in Mississauga, Ont. On Monday, Ontario's police watchdog said the three officers acted reasonably. (Submitted by Mensah family - image credit)
The family of Clive Mensah, 30, has been demanding answers since he died in November 2019 after being Tasered during a struggle with police outside his home in Mississauga, Ont. On Monday, Ontario's police watchdog said the three officers acted reasonably. (Submitted by Mensah family - image credit)

Ontario's police watchdog has ruled there will be no criminal charges against the officers involved in the 2019 death of an unarmed Black man with mental illness who obeyed a police command to get on the ground before he was Tasered and pepper-sprayed in the backyard of his own home.

In a decision released Monday, Special Investigations Unit (SIU) director Joseph Martino concluded that the three Peel Regional Police officers acted reasonably when they restrained 30-year-old Clive Mensah at his Mississauga, Ont., home on Nov. 20, 2019.

"Though there is no doubt that significant force was used against the complainant, I am satisfied it was not unlawful," Martino said in the report.

"Might not the officers have been better advised to to simply move in to attempt to take physical control of the complainant before resorting to a weapon? Perhaps," he wrote. "However, allowance must be made for the fact that police officers embroiled in potentially volatile situations need not measure the nature and extent of their force with precision."

Mensah's family issued a written statement on Monday saying they're devastated by the decision.

"No family should have to lose a loved one this way. Clive was alone and scared and had done nothing wrong," they said.

All three officers used the same Taser X2 model, as pictured in the SIU's report. Also pictured is a canister of pepper spray used by the officer who spoke with investigators.
All three officers used the same Taser X2 model, as pictured in the SIU's report. Also pictured is a canister of pepper spray used by the officer who spoke with investigators.(Special Investigations Unit)

Mensah, his family says, was a gentle giant who loved basketball and music and cared about his faith. He also suffered from a mental health condition — possibly schizophrenia — and according to a medical report was "frequently observed speaking loudly to himself."

Whether he was experiencing a schizophrenic episode on the night of his death is unclear. What is known is that police were called to Mensah's neighbourhood for multiple noise complaints, where an officer located him and told him to go home.

He did, but less than an hour later, he was dead.

Officer noted Mensah 'needed help,' didn't call crisis team

The first call to police came at about 2:40 a.m. from a fellow tenant at Mensah's home, the SIU report says. The tenant complained that Mensah was making excessive noise but that he'd left the house. Not long afterward, the tenant called police again, this time saying Mensah had returned possibly with another person, was still causing a disturbance and might be intoxicated.

At 3:15 a.m, police received another complaint, this time from a different caller about someone on the street "walking up and down, swinging his arms, and screaming and yelling."

Of the three officers who restrained Mensah that night, just one agreed to be interviewed by SIU investigators and submit their notes. The two others declined, as Ontario's Police Services Act allows them to do.

"According to the officer, the complainant needed help given his behaviour and it was imperative that he be apprehended quickly," the report says.

But if the officer believed Mensah needed help, at no point did police call a crisis team to the scene. That echoes a familiar pattern where people in crisis are killed in interactions with police rather than receiving help — something mental health advocates have been sounding alarm bells about in recent years.

A hospital report shared with CBC News from the night Mensah died noted a 'delay' in paramedics reaching him as police cruisers blocked the roadway to the scene.
A hospital report shared with CBC News from the night Mensah died noted a 'delay' in paramedics reaching him as police cruisers blocked the roadway to the scene.(Jeremy Cohn/CBC)

Peel Regional Police's 24-hour crisis response team, which pairs a plainclothes officer with a mental health official, was not deployed, the report says.

"Ought it have been?" Martino asks in the report. Police had no specific information indicating Mensah might have been in crisis, he said. And while officers might have surmised he was struggling, "things moved quickly" from the moment Mensah was first located to when he walked into the backyard of his home.

Police 'unaware' Mensah lived at home: report

According to the report, the officers were "unaware" Mensah lived at the home and believed he was possibly intoxicated when they followed him to the backyard. That's despite the original 911 call coming from a tenant at the home, raising questions about what dispatchers communicated to the officers responding to the call.

As first reported by CBC News, inside the backyard, police ordered Mensah, who was six-foot-three and 334 pounds, facedown on the deck with his hands behind his back. He complied, but according to police, he continued to move his arms. That's when one of the three officers Tasered him.

The report indicates Mensah then stood up and advanced toward the officer, who backed away off the deck. A second Taser was fired at Mensah, who by this point was also off the deck and went "rigid," falling "facedown" onto the ground.

Two officers then attempted to hold down Mensah's arms as the third stood on his legs.

The report says Mensah "showed incredible strength and was able to ward off the officer's efforts," and a third Taser was discharged. When the Tasers seemed to have no effect, one of the officers fired pepper-spray in the direction of Mensah's head before he was handcuffed facedown behind his back.

Mensah's uncles, William Owusu, left, and Stephen Boakye, were the only family members he had in Canada.
Mensah's uncles, William Owusu, left, and Stephen Boakye, were the only family members he had in Canada.(Sue Goodspeed/CBC)

A coroner's report would later conclude Mensah's cause of death was "undetermined."

"The cause of this man's death was multifactorial in nature, with possible contributions of his agitated state, the interaction with police, including blunt injuries, his restraint, his prone position in the context of morbid obesity, and the perimortem deployment of [Conducted Energy Weapons] and [Oleoresin Capsicum] spray," the post-mortem exam stated.

Officers 'may not have acted as quickly as they could have'

Given the known health risks of placing an obese person in a prone or facedown position with their arms behind their back, the SIU report says, the officers "would have done well to re-position" Mensah promptly.

Still, Martino concluded: "While I find that the subject officers on scene may not have acted as quickly as they could have to remove the complainant from the prone position after he had been handcuffed, their lapses fall short of constituting a marked and substantial deviation from a reasonable level of care."

At various points in the report, Martino makes reference to Mensah's supposed "incredible strength," saying he posed a "formidable physical challenge to the officers" and was able to "ward off" their attempts to restrain him.

WATCH | A young Black man died after being Tasered. His family is demanding answers:

The officer who spoke with investigators described Mensah "as being in a frenzied state and believed he was in the throes of excited delirium" — a controversial state not recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) and generally understood to stem from drug use or mental illness.

'You are there to serve and protect. Not to serve and to kill'

On its website, Ontario's Ministry of the Solicitor General says, "Typically, a person suffering from excited delirium will display signs of severe mental disturbance, and may act violently and aggressively." The information appears on a section of the website on use-of-force training for security guards.

If a person appears to be in a state of excited delirium, guards should avoid agitating them, the page says.

A person in this state also "should not be held face down, and there should be no pressure on their chest," it says, noting the risk of cutting off air supply is "much higher for individuals suffering from excited delirium."

Mensah's family has been waiting nearly 18 months for the SIU's report and hoping for accountability in his death.

They previously told CBC News they wondered if Mensah might still be alive if not for the fact that he was Black.

In Monday's statement, the family also said they've never heard from Peel police about Mensah's death, and have never received an apology.

"And now, we see no one will be held accountable," they said.

Previously, the family said they relive Mensah's death with every story they see about young Black people during interactions with police.

"They have no right whatsoever to take his life," his uncle, William Owusu, previously told CBC News. "You are there to serve and protect. Not to serve and to kill."

The SIU investigates reports involving police where there has been death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

<cite>(CBC)</cite>
(CBC)