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Calgary officers face no charges over man’s head injury in custody: police watchdog

November 30, 2021  By Canadian Press

Nov. 29, 2021, Calgary, Alta. – Alberta’s police watchdog says two officers won’t face criminal charges over their handling of a man who sustained a severe brain injury while in custody.

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, known as ASIRT, says in a decision that the Calgary officers were justified in using as much force as necessary to protect themselves and bring the man under control.

It also says there was evidence that could provide reasonable grounds to believe an assault had been committed.

ASIRT forwarded the case to Alberta’s Crown Prosecution Service for an opinion. The Crown found the evidence did not meet the standard for prosecution.

“A trier of fact would have to resolve whether the evidence was capable, not just of providing grounds to believe that the officer’s conduct caused the significant head injury … but of proving this beyond a reasonable doubt,” says the investigative unit’s report.

“While there may have been alternative responses, and the plan was less than perfect, in general, the officers did what one might expect them to do.”

ASIRT says the officers responded to a call from a social services office on July 3, 2019, about a 44-year-old man allegedly threatening to kill himself and others when he was denied help with medication costs.

The report says the officers decided to arrest the man on an outstanding warrant instead of under the Mental Health Act. He was taken into custody and placed in a cell with three other people.

The man tried to hang himself with his shirt and was moved into an isolation cell “devoid of anything that a person might be able to use to self-harm,” the report says.

It says he was given a “blanket-like garment” designed for those who might be prone to harming themselves, but tore strips of fabric from it and tried to strangle himself. He also banged his head against the cell door window four to five times, the report says.

Four officers entered the cell, one with a plastic riot-style shield, to control the man, who punched and kicked them, ASIRT says.

The officers got the man to the cell floor, where one of them delivered about 11 punches and two elbow strikes to his head, the agency says. Another officer kneed him in the torso four times.

Video footage from inside the cell showed blood pooling around the man’s head as he was placed in leg shackles and handcuffs before being injected with a sedative by a paramedic.

The man was taken to hospital and returned to custody a short time later, ASIRT says, but was rushed back again when doctors determined he had suffered a brain bleed.

The agency says the use of force was “relatively minor,” except for the 13 blows to the man’s head.

“This considerable use of force raises the question of whether this amount of force was intended or was likely to cause grievous bodily harm, as defined as seriously interfering with comfort or health,” the report says.

“If so, the force could only be justified if the officer believed on reasonable grounds, that the force was necessary for the self-preservation of the officer or preservation of anyone under that officer’s protection.”

The report adds that the man’s significant head injury could have been the result of him banging his head against the door.

ASIRT says all relevant police and civilian witnesses were interviewed and video footage was analyzed. The two officers who were investigated declined to provide ASIRT with statements.

No one was named in the report.

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