Ontario’s police watchdog has concluded that three Peel Regional Police officers were not criminally negligent when a mentally ill Mississauga man died after they Tasered him a dozen times during a struggle to restrain him in his own backyard.
Special Investigations Unit (SIU) director Joseph Martino found the officers had no way of knowing that Clive Mensah, 30, had schizophrenia and may have been in a psychotic state when they engaged him in an “intense” struggle 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 wrote in his report released Monday.
Responding to the SIU’s finding through their Toronto lawyer, Mensah’s family said, “we are devastated. No family should have to lose a loved one this way. Clive was alone and scared and had done nothing wrong.”
Family lawyer Emily Lam noted that because two officers chose not to co-operate with SIU investigators, the watchdog had limited information to go on in making its decision.
All officers under SIU investigation have the legal right to refuse to sit for an interview or submit their notes.
According to the SIU report, three officers were called to Mesah’s Runningbrook Drive neighbourhood shortly after 3 a.m. over reports a man was causing a disturbance.
One of the officers approached Mensah, finding him “flailing his arms and making unintelligible sounds,” the report said. Mensah ignored the officer and made his way into the backyard of his home.
According to the report, the officer was not aware that Mensah lived at that residence and was “understandably concerned” about his intentions.
All three officers next entered the backyard and, after finding Mensah on his deck, ordered him to the ground. In response, Mensah positioned himself prone on the deck but did not put his hands behind his back as directed, and instead continued to flail his arms, the report said.
At this, one of the officers shot Mensah with a Taser, after which he got up, lunged at another officer, then fell face down on the lawn, the report said.
All three officers then engaged Mensah in a “strenuous physical struggle” during which they fired their Tasers a combined 12 times — to little apparent effect — before finally pepper-spraying and handcuffing him.
The officers called an ambulance but Mensah was without a pulse before paramedics arrived. He was pronounced dead in hospital.
A pathologist determined Mensah died of a fatal cardiac arrhythmia that was “multifactorial in nature,” with possible contributions from the struggle with police, including blunt injuries, his restraint and his prone position in the context of his obesity and the use of the Tasers and pepper spray immediately before his death.
Like in the case of D’Andre Campbell, a mentally ill Mississauga man who was shot and killed by a Peel officer during an April 2020 distress call, Martino said the evidence Mensah was experiencing a mental health issue raises “the question of the propriety of the police response in relation to an individual who was not of sound mind.”
At the time of the incident, Peel police had a Crisis Outreach Assessment Support Team (COAST) available to respond to mental health calls, but that team was not meant to be deployed in emergency cases, Martino wrote
“I am unable to find fault with the failure to mobilize COAST in this event, nor does it appear that COAST, had it been deployed, would have made a difference given the speed with which events unfolded.”
Responding to the SIU report, Peel police Deputy Chief Marc Andrews said Mensah’s death is an example of the need to “move away from” police as sole first-responders in mental health crises. “Mr. Mensah was in crisis and we had a limited array of tools to respond,” Andrews said, noting that COAST was not designed for volatile, emergency situations.
The SIU “found no criminal wrongdoing but what they do identify is a gap,” Andrews said.
As of January 2020, Peel police have since established two Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Teams, however, officers still respond to most calls without the help of a mental health expert.
“We are committed to seeking collaborative opportunities to mitigate risk for persons in crisis,” Peel police Chief Nishan Duraiappah wrote in a statement.
Jason Miller is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star covering crime and justice in the Peel Region. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Reach him on email: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @millermotionpic
Jason Miller, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Toronto Star