Ontario's police watchdog clears Peel cop who shot and killed Jamal Francique in Mississauga last year
Photos of Jamal Francique are displayed at a vigil for the 28-year-old, who was fatally shot January 7, 2020. (CTV News/Natalie Johnson)
TORONTO -- The province's police watchdog has cleared a Peel police officer who shot and killed 28-year-old Jamal Francique in Mississauga last January.
In a report released today, almost one year after the fatal shooting, Joseph Martino, the director of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), said he found no reasonable grounds to criminally charge the officer who shot Francique on the night of Jan. 7, 2020.
According to the SIU report, members of the Peel Regional Police Service's vice narcotics street level organized crime unit had gathered on the afternoon of the day of the shooting to discuss "ongoing surveillance" of Francique.
The SIU report states that police were in "possession of information" that Francique was trafficking drugs and had a firearm, information that police had been unable to confirm.
The report added that Peel police officers had observed Francique "travelling to various locations in breach of his bail conditions" and decided to arrest him for allegedly violating the terms of his bail.
Members of the unit, along with plainclothes officers and unmarked vehicles, went to the townhouse complex where Francique resided with his parents, in the area of Southampton Drive and Aquinas Avenue in Mississauga.
"The plan was to wait for Mr. Francique to enter his vehicle, whereupon a team member would position his vehicle behind the Acura to prevent its egress. Thereafter, officers would converge on the vehicle on foot to arrest Mr. Francique." the SIU report read.
"A deflation device was placed under the front passenger tire of Mr. Francique’s vehicle, which would necessarily be run over if Mr. Francique was able to reverse out of his parking spot."
The SIU report states that Francique exited his home at around 5:45 p.m. and the officer who was supposed to park behind Francique’s vehicle was late arriving to the area.
Francique, the report says, managed to reverse out of his spot and two officers then positioned their cruisers near the Acrua in an attempt to box the vehicle in.
Other officers, including the subject officer, "rushed to the scene" and positioned themselves northwest of Francique's vehicle near a grass boulevard with their guns drawn, according to the report.
The SIU said Francique momentarily paused after reversing and then accelerated forward, striking one cruiser before heading toward the boulevard where the officers were positioned.
One officer, the SIU said, jumped out of the way of Francique's car to avoid being struck.
The subject officer then fired his gun four times in the direction of the driver's seat, according to the report.
Francique's vehicle travelled another 30 metres before hitting a pillar at the back of one of the townhouses in the area.
The SIU said officers on scene were afraid Francique was armed so they did not approach his vehicle, waiting for the arrival of Peel Regional Police tactical officers instead.
Members of the tactical team arrived at 8:05 p.m. and knocked out the rear windows of Francique's vehicle. The SIU said Francique was seated in the driver's seat in "obvious and acute medical distress," suffering from a gunshot wound to the left side of his head.
Emergency first aid was performed by paramedics and he was then rushed to St. Michael's Hospital for treatment.
Police say when Francique was extracted from the vehicle, officers found a semi-automatic pistol inside a satchel he was carrying.
Francique remained on life support for three days before he was subsequently pronounced dead in hospital on Jan. 10.
The SIU said following a neighbourhood canvas, they were unable to locate any video or audio recordings or photographic evidence of the incident.
In his report, Martino said the subject officer was "engaged in the lawful execution of his duties" when he took part in the attempted arrest of Francique, who police say had been seen breaching his bail conditions by visiting his girlfriend in the days before the fatal shooting.
In his interview with the SIU, the subject officer, who has not been publicly identified, said that he believed there was an "imminent risk to his life" when he discharged his firearm.
Martino said over the course of the SIU's investigation, they found nothing that would "cast doubt" on that assertion.
"The Acura was accelerating forward in his general direction, nearing to within a few metres, when he fired his weapon four times in quick succession," the SIU report read.
"The (subject officer) had just seen the Acura evade what was very clearly a police roadblock; the emergency lights and siren of (one police) vehicle were on as he drove up to and stopped in front of Mr. Francique attempting to prevent his forward movement."
Martino noted that while there is the question of a possible retreat or disengagement, it would be "unreasonable to conclude" that the officer should be disqualified from protection under Sec. 25(3) of the Criminal Code over his decision not pursue an alternative course of action.
"One must be mindful of the fluid and dynamic nature of the incident. The (subject officer's) role in the plan that had been devised was to approach the vehicle on foot, after it had been boxed-in, to arrest Mr. Francique,” Martino wrote.
“Considered in context, one can understand why the (officer) took up that role and quickly found himself in front of a moving vehicle when, with the luxury of more time, he might have appreciated the failed box-in and maintained his distance from the Acura."
Investigation 'must continue,' lawyer for Francique's family says
Knia Singh, a lawyer representing the family of Jamal Francique, said the investigation into the fatal shooting must continue despite the SIU’s findings.
“This is a signal to the provincial government that something is absolutely wrong. By reading the report alone, the major inconsistencies with the report should signal that the SIU is not conducting thorough, accurate investigations,” Singh said during a Zoom news conference on Wednesday afternoon.
“The SIU is not a competent organization that can continue to conduct these type of investigations when accountability is supposed to be at the forefront.”
He said there is a “disturbing trend” emerging that shows the SIU favours clearing officers over charging them.
“The analysis by directors over the years have shown a heavy reliance on bias leaning toward clearing police officers when admittedly directors comment on the fact that officers could have done something different yet still always rule in their favour,” Singh said. “The trend must stop.”