No criminal charges will be laid against Peel Regional Police officer who shot 62-year-old man in crisis in his apartment in Mississauga: SIU
The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) says that the Peel Regional Police officer who shot 62-year-old Ejaz Choudry in his Mississauga apartment during a mental health call will not be facing criminal charges.
The officer who shot Choudry refused to be interviewed or turn over his notes, which is his legal right.
The SIU's investigation into Choudry's death consisted of interviews with nine civilian witnesses and 13 officers, including two officers who witnessed the shooting. The investigation also included the review of video recordings that captured the movements of police on the balcony and in the hallway outside the apartment, along with forensic evidence and medical information about Choudry.
Joseph Martino, the director of the SIU, said that while the situation ended with "devastating consequences," he is not convinced that the police involved in the shooting committed a criminal offence or used unreasonable force against Choudry, a schizophrenic man who was repeatedly described as "frail."
Choudry's death sparked multiple protests and calls for police reform, especially in regards to mental health-related calls.
According to the SIU report, Choudry's family asked police to conduct a wellness check on the evening of June 20, 2020. The report says that Choudry's family indicated that Choudry, who lived in a unit at 3425 Morning Star Drive, was off his medication and had wandered away from a hospital. A family member reportedly told police that Choudry had previously been hospitalized for psychiatric care.
The report says police arrived at the apartment with Choudry's family and found him in his second-floor unit, kneeling on a prayer rug and armed with two knives (including a large kitchen knife). When Choudry was asked to drop the weapons, he reportedly refused and asked the officers to leave, prompting the officers and family members to exit the apartment.
Paramedics were also on scene.
According to the report, Peel police's Tactical Response Unit (TRU) was called to the scene and Choudry's family members were asked to go downstairs and not communicate with him. The report says that prior to the TRU arriving, officers told him to come out and give police his knife so that they did not feel threatened, but Choudry refused and said he believed the police would shoot him.
A Punjabi-speaking officer was called to the scene to help communicate with Choudry, who had been responding to officers in both Punjabi and English. The report says the Punjabi-speaking officer tried to reassure Choudry that police and paramedics were there to help, but Choudry was distrustful and said the police "could not help him."
The report says Choudry told police he had no intention of harming himself with the knife. Choudry also told police that he would not let them into his apartment without a court order and that if they came in, "they would watch what happens."
The report says that police came up with an initial plan to contain the apartment, keep other tenants away and negotiate Choudry's apprehension under the Mental Health Act. According to the report, an officer learned that the apartment was accessible through the balcony door and, together with TRU team leaders, crafted a Deliberate Action Plan (DAP) that involved one TRU team entering the apartment through the balcony door and, five seconds later, another TRU team entering through the apartment's front door.
An officer requested a Crisis Negotiator Team (CNT), but the CNT was about an hour away.
The report also says that a Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team (MCRRT), which consists of a police officer and a mental health professional, could not respond because they were busy at another incident.
The report says that sometime before 8:00 p.m., Choudry stopped responding to officers and no movement could be heard within the apartment. An officer decided to implement the DAP after about 20 minutes of silence from Choudry.
According to the report, officers climbed onto the balcony and kicked the door open. After officers entered the apartment, Choudry reportedly walked towards them with a knife and ignored instructions to drop it. The report says one officer discharged his conducted energy weapon (Taser) at Choudry before another officer deployed an Anti-Riot Weapon ENfield (ARWEN) three times in quick succession. Very shortly after that, an officer shot Choudry with a firearm, striking him in the chest.
The report says that Choudry fell backwards with the knife in his hand. Officers reportedly told him to drop the knife and another officer then discharged his ARWEN two more times at Choudry.
After that, one officer used "all of his strength" to kick the knife out of Choudry's hand, fracturing Choudry's elbow in the process.
At this moment, the other TRU team breached the apartment and paramedics began CPR on Choudry with the assistance of an officer. Attempts to save Choudry's life were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead at 8:38 p.m.
A forensic pathologist concluded that Choudry's cause of death was two gunshot wounds to the chest.
In the report, Martino said the two overarching questions with respect to the potential criminal liability of the involved officers are whether police used excessive force during their interaction with Choudry and whether the officer in charge of the police response was criminally negligent in his actions.
"Following a thorough examination of the evidence, I am unable to form reasonable grounds to believe any PRP officer committed a criminal offence in relation to Mr. Choudry's death," Martino wrote.
Martino wrote that he accepts that Choudry brandished a knife in front of officers and that even though Choudry was sickly and reportedly unable to walk even short distances without taking breaks, he believes officers felt that he could hurt or kill someone with the weapon, especially since he reportedly continued to advance on them after being struck with non-lethal weapons. Martino also said that officers would not have been able to retreat from Choudry, as they were backing onto a small balcony.
"There was no realistic way to retreat because the officers were perched on a small, crowded balcony they could only exit by using ladders. There was also no time to switch tactics and try other methods, such as using oleoresin capsicum spray or a baton, to disarm Mr. Choudry," Martino wrote in the report.
"Any other option to respond to the threat, such as going hands-on with Mr. Choudry or closing the balcony door (which swung into the apartment), would have increased the risk that the officers would suffer serious injury or death. As such, I believe the [officer’s] resort to his firearm was objectively reasonable, necessary and proportional to the threat posed by Mr. Choudry, notwithstanding the tragic loss of life it caused.”
Martino said a video of the balcony suggests that about eight to nine seconds elapsed from the moment the officers breached the balcony door to the moment Choudry was shot, and about another six seconds elapsed before an officer fired the final ARWEN shot.
"It is believable that Mr. Choudry, who had paranoid beliefs about the police, would approach the officers with a knife in order to protect himself, especially when he had already brandished a knife at officers earlier that evening," Martino wrote.
Martino said that he had concerns about the ARWEN being deployed two more times after Choudry had fallen to the ground after being shot, but that he was unable to find the force "excessive" under the circumstances.
"At first blush, this use of force is questionable given Mr. Choudry's frailty and position on the floor; however, I am unable to find it excessive. Mr. Choudry had shown determination in approaching the officers with a knife by advancing on them despite the CEW and ARWEN discharges. Even after he was shot, he continued to hold the knife, and also appeared to be using his left hand to try to get up," Martino wrote.
In the report, Martino said that while police presence clearly exacerbated Choudry's fears, he cannot fault officers for approaching the situation the way they did, adding that crisis negotiators and mental health professionals were not able to respond in a timely fashion.
"While questions about police reform are of clear importance, systemic issues in policing can only play a role in the SIU's decision-making where they are relevant to the potential criminal culpability of an individual police officer. The offence of criminal negligence causing death is predicated, in part, on conduct that amounts to a marked and substantial departure from the level of care that a reasonable person would have exercised in the circumstances,' Martino wrote.
"Notwithstanding the aforementioned concerns, I am unable to form reasonable grounds to believe that the responding officers' conduct approached this level of negligence. In fact, it appears the officer in charge…made appropriate use of the available resources and reasonable choices in an ultimately failed attempt to safely apprehend Mr. Choudry."
Martino also said that while having family members participate in such crisis situations can help, it can also agitate a distressed person further.
"In the final analysis, as I am not reasonably satisfied for the foregoing reasons that the shooting of Mr. Choudry amounted to legally unjustified force or was the culmination of a criminally negligent course of conduct, there is no basis to proceed with criminal charges in this case notwithstanding Mr. Choudry's tragic death. This file is closed," Martino wrote.
Peel Regional Police Chief Nishan Duraiappah extended his condolences to Choudry’s family and said the police service is working on strengthening its response to mental health calls.
“I extend my heartfelt condolences to Mr. Choudry’s family and friends. The pain and grief felt in the community and within our organization has been profound,” Duraiappah said in a statement.
“We recognize that more has to be done to support those in crisis, and police should not be the primary responders called upon to manage mental health calls. While we are addressing the growing needs for mental health support, we know that gaps still exist. I have been working with community stakeholders to address the growing need for mental health services in our Region. In partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association - Peel/Dufferin, we are expanding our Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Teams (MCRRT) to enhance service for those in distress.”
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