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SIU clears Sudbury officers in woman’s death after fall from Bridge of Nations

Director Martino: Woman’s fall from bridge was not from any want of reasonable efforts on the officers’ part

The Special Investigations Unit has found no reasonable grounds to believe that Greater Sudbury Police officers committed a criminal offence in the death of a 53-year-old woman who fell from the Bridge of Nations in Sudbury March 19 of this year.

A report on the incident was released by SIU director Joseph Martino July 16.

According to the report, at about 5:10 p.m. of March 19, 2021, multiple 911 calls were received by the GSPS from citizens concerned about the safety of a person sitting on the railing of the Bridge of Nations in Sudbury. Officers were dispatched to the scene.

Homeless and despondent with living on the streets, a woman was contemplating taking her life by jumping from the bridge.

The first Greater Sudbury Police officers on the scene arrived at 5:13 p.m. At about the same time, the woman climbed completely over the railing onto the narrow outer ledge by the flagpole of The Netherlands on the western side of the bridge. 

The officers parked their cruisers a distance from the woman, exited, and slowly approached her location. They stopped when she warned that she would jump if they got any closer. 

From a distance of about three to four metres, one of the officers took the lead in speaking with the woman. The officer indicated they were there to help her and encouraged her to return to safety. 

The woman asked to be left alone. Within minutes of his arrival, WO #5 asked for the assistance of trained crisis negotiators.

At about 5:20 p.m., two trained negotiators with the GSPS Tactical Unit arrived. 

One of the negotiators spoke with the woman, asking her about any family and friends they could contact. 

The woman was not receptive to any of the officer’s overtures. She variously indicated that she would jump or come back over the railing in her own time if the police left. The police negotiator continued to try to keep her engaged in conversation.

At about 5:43 p.m., with the police negotiators several metres north of her location, the woman fell from the bridge onto the railway grounds below, a drop of about 11 metres.

Paramedics attended to the woman and transported her to hospital. She was declared deceased at 6:10 p.m.

The pathologist at autopsy was of the preliminary view that the woman’s death was attributable to multiple blunt impact trauma.

SIU director Martino said that on his “assessment of the evidence, there are no reasonable grounds to believe” that the police officials on scene “committed a criminal offence in connection” with the woman’s death.

The offence that arises for consideration is criminal negligence causing death contrary to section 220 of the Criminal Code, said Martino’s report.

The offence is reserved for serious cases of neglect that demonstrate a wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons, he said.

Martino said in this case, “the issue is whether there was a want of care on the part of either of the subject officials in the manner in which they dealt with” the woman who fell from the bridge “and her predicament that caused or contributed to her death and was sufficiently egregious as to attract criminal sanction. 

“In my view, there was not,” he said,.

The officers who responded to the Bridge of Nations were lawfully placed throughout the incident, Martino said. A police officer’s foremost obligation is the preservation of life, and they were duty bound to do what they could to prevent harm coming to the woman.

He said he is satisfied that the involved officers comported themselves with due care and regard for the woman’’s health and well-being in the half-hour or so that they engaged with her on the bridge. 

They did what they could, for example, to keep her calm, removing as much of the police presence as possible (personnel and cars) and directing the fire department to stand-by when the woman made it clear she would jump if they attended, the report said. 

Though the woman had indicated she might climb back over the railing if they left, the officers were not at liberty to completely vacate the area given she had also said she was intent on jumping, said Martino.

Nor were they necessarily in a position to take a more proactive posture by, for example, rushing in to grab hold of her; that risked the woman jumping from the bridge, particularly as she had warned them to keep their distance. 

“In the circumstances, I am unable to find fault with the course that was adopted, namely, the use of trained negotiators to attempt to encourage” the woman “back to safety from a distance,” Martino said.

“In the final analysis, that the officers could not prevent” the woman “from falling – whether intentionally or accidentally – was not from any want of reasonable efforts on their part.”

He said there are no grounds to believe the involved officers “transgressed the limits of care prescribed by the criminal law. Accordingly, there is no basis for proceeding with criminal charges in this case, and the file is closed.”

The SIU is an independent government agency that investigates the conduct of officials (police officers as well as special constables with the Niagara Parks Commission and peace officers with the Legislative Protective Service) that may have resulted in death, serious injury, sexual assault and/or the discharge of a firearm at a person. 

All investigations are conducted by SIU investigators who are civilians. 

Under the Special Investigations Unit Act, the director of the SIU must consider whether the official has committed a criminal offence in connection with the incident under investigation depending on the evidence, cause a criminal charge to be laid against the official where grounds exist for doing so, or close the file without any charges being laid publicly report the results of its investigations.