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SIU clears Sudbury cop who punched unruly suspect

Despite fracturing suspect's orbital bone, action was justified because drunken man kicked police, tried to flee custody, investigator finds
A Greater Sudbury police officer who punched a suspect in the face last year, fracturing his orbital bone, has been cleared by the Special Investigations Unit, Ontario's police watchdog. (File)

A Greater Sudbury police officer who punched a suspect in the face last year, fracturing his orbital bone, has been cleared by the Special Investigations Unit, Ontario's police watchdog.

In a decision dated Aug. 2, the SIU outlined a detailed series of events that led to the incident on Aug. 7, 2018, and ruled the officer's actions were justified because he was trying to control a drunken suspect who was violently kicking police.

The SIU relied on interviews with those involved, video from cameras monitoring Hnatyshyn Park where the incident took place, well as footage from one of the officers on the scene and recordings between officers and police HQ.

According to the incident narrative established during the investigation, police received information last August that a 37-year-old man at the park was visibly drunk, violating his release conditions on another matter.

The officer who struck the man, as well as police on bicycle patrol, arrived at the park and approached the suspect.

“The complainant was inebriated and consuming alcohol in breach of a condition of his probation,” the SIU said in its decision. “The (officer) moved in to arrest the complainant and handcuffed his hands behind his back without incident. He and (the other officer) escorted the complainant to the entrance of the park at the intersection of Lloyd Street and Notre Dame Avenue to wait for a cruiser that would take him to the police station.”

At that point, the suspect “became antsy,” the SIU said, and tried to get away from police.

“He was asked to sit down on the cement ledge of a flower planter in the area, and was then made to sit when he refused,” the decision said. “Once on the cement ledge of the planter, the complainant laid down, raised his legs and kicked the (police officer’s) right knee, pushing the officer back.”

At that point, the other police officer grabbed the man's legs to try and stop him from kicking again.

“The complainant struggled to get up from the ledge and was punched once in the face by the (officer),” the SIU said. “A police cruiser arrived and the complainant was taken in it to the police station. He was subsequently transported to the hospital where he was diagnosed with a fractured orbital bone.”

In his analysis, SIU Director Joseph Martino wrote that police are authorized to use force when it's necessary to complete an arrest. The man was violating his release conditions, Martino wrote, so there is clear evidence police had every right to arrest him.

“They were further authorized to maintain custody over him and to ensure their safety in so doing,” Martino wrote in his decision. “The complainant, despite being handcuffed, kicked the (police officer) forcefully and then struggled with the officers in what appeared to be an effort to get away. The officers were entitled to respond with force to quell the complainant’s violence and overcome his resistance.

“In my view, the force they used, consisting of ... grabbing hold of the complainant’s legs and a singular punch to the face ... fell within the range of what was reasonably necessary in the circumstances.”

Under those conditions, Martino wrote, the arresting officer was entitled to regain control over the suspect quickly, and a single punch to the face was not excessive.

“In arriving at this conclusion, it is important to bear in mind that police officers confronted with violence are not expected to measure their responsive force to a nicety,” he wrote. “What is required is a reasonable response, not an exacting one.”

“While I accept that the punch delivered by the (officer) was the likely cause of the complainant’s injury, I am satisfied on reasonable grounds that the force used by the officer was legally justified. Accordingly, there is no basis to proceed with criminal charges in this case and the file is closed.”   

Read the full decision here.