SIU clears officers in death of man who fled traffic stop

Ontario's Special Investigations Unit has cleared a trio of OPP officers in the death of a 66-year-old man who died during an arrest this July. (Yvon Theriault/CBC - image credit)
Ontario's Special Investigations Unit has cleared a trio of OPP officers in the death of a 66-year-old man who died during an arrest this July. (Yvon Theriault/CBC - image credit)

Ontario's police watchdog says there are no grounds to charge three Ontario Provincial Police officers in the death of a 66-year-old man who fled a traffic stop near Long Sault, Ont., this summer.

According to Saturday's release from the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the man sped away from the officers in his pickup truck on the afternoon of July 22, 2022, after failing a breathalyzer test during a stop on Highway 401 at the Moulinette Road exit.

As the man took off, one officer's hand was still stuck in the pickup truck's door handle, causing him to be dragged a short distance, the SIU said.

Two of the officers initially pursued the man onto County Road 29 at speeds between 120 and 190 km/h, but they were always roughly a half-minute behind him, according to the SIU.

They headed north onto County Road 12 and then west on Eamon Road, where a sergeant monitoring the chase ordered it be called off. The man then failed to make a right-hand turn at the intersection with Gravel Pit Road, veering off into a cornfield before crashing into a ditch.

About 15 minutes later, the two officers involved in the chase, plus a third officer, arrived on scene to arrest the man, but he refused to get out of the truck, the SIU said.

When they pulled him out, he continued resisting arrest — even after being handcuffed — and then began to struggle with his breathing, the SIU said.

The cuffs were taken off, but the man became unresponsive. Officers performed CPR, but after paramedics arrived the man was declared dead at the scene.

The cause of the man's death still remains unclear four months later, the SIU said.

Force used was 'legally justified'

The SIU is an independent government agency that investigates interactions with police officers that lead to death, serious injury, sexual assault or the discharge of a firearm at a person.

In his findings, SIU director Joseph Martino said the force used by the officers to pull the man from his truck and restrain him on the ground was "legally justified" and it did not appear the man had been hit by the officers.

Martino said the vehicles' speeds during the first part of the chase were dangerous, but the pursuit occurred in daylight on "sparsely populated rural roads" and the officers were never too close to the man's truck.

"Though it remains unclear how or why the [man] died, I am satisfied that his death is not attributable to criminal conduct on the part of the officers," Martino concluded in his report.

The officers involved refused to be interviewed for the investigation and did not provide their notes, as is their legal right.

Long Sault is approximately 100 kilometres southeast of Ottawa.