Watchdog clears Ottawa police of wrongdoing in man's overdose death

·2 min read
Ontario's Special Investigation Unit gets involved when police or peace officers are involved in a death, serious injury, shooting at a person or allegation of sexual assualt. (Colin Perkel/Canadian Press - image credit)
Ontario's Special Investigation Unit gets involved when police or peace officers are involved in a death, serious injury, shooting at a person or allegation of sexual assualt. (Colin Perkel/Canadian Press - image credit)
Colin Perkel/Canadian Press
Colin Perkel/Canadian Press

Police officers have been cleared after an inmate died from a cocaine overdose following his January 2021 arrest in Ottawa, according to Ontario's Special Investigations Unit (SIU).

As part of its mandate, the SIU examines deaths involving police, and the unit was called in after the 49-year-old man's death on Jan. 19, 2021.

The unidentified man was taken to Ottawa police headquarters on Elgin Street and placed in a cell, where the SIU said he was found unresponsive less than four hours later.

Paramedics were called to take the man to hospital where he was pronounced dead just after 10 p.m.

In the report dated April 20 and released Tuesday, the unit said an autopsy showed the man died of acute cocaine toxicity and there's no evidence he took drugs after his arrest.

Police had a valid warrant to search his home for drugs and paraphernalia, the SIU report said. The man "appeared unimpaired and in good condition when he was arrested and then booked, and had denied consuming any drugs or alcohol."

Not criminal negligence, failure to provide

The man in the cell was checked every half hour or so starting around 5:40 p.m., according to the report.

The SIU said in retrospect, an officer saw a sign of trouble around 9 p.m. when one of the officers saw him shaking in what appeared to be his sleep with "panicked" breathing, but he thought the man was having a nightmare.

"Given the absence of any disconcerting antecedent behaviour by the complainant, I am unable to fault [that officer] for the action he took," the report said.

Around 9:15 p.m., the man was "largely unreceptive" with unfocused eyes. Officers called for help and started giving first aid.

The SIU said the actions of the two officers under investigation were neither criminal negligence nor failing to provide the necessaries of life.

"As there are no reasonable grounds to believe that either subject official transgressed the limits of care in connection with the complainant's time in police custody, there is no basis for proceeding with criminal charges in this case."

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