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SIU clears Toronto officer who ran over man in west-end park of any wrongdoing

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A Toronto police officer who ran over a 31-year-old man in a west Toronto park last summer will not face criminal charges, the province’s police watchdog has announced.

The incident in question happened on Aug. 6 at Earlscourt Park, near St. Clair Avenue West and Caledonia Park Road, during the second day of Festival Eritrea Toronto.

The day before, police were called to the festival after opponents of the Eritrean government crashed it “resulting in skirmishes and several persons being taken to hospital,” Joseph Martino, director of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), said in his Dec. 4 report.

According to the SIU, at about 2 p.m. on Aug. 6, an officer driving a fully-marked Toronto Police Service vehicle hit a man who was asleep on a grassy hill in the northwest corner of the park, just west of the soccer field. He stopped the vehicle at the bottom of the hill after feeling a “thump from underneath the cruiser,” the civilian agency said.

It said that after the collision the officer involved “rendered aid” to the victim, who was critically injured and “yelling in pain.”

The man was taken by paramedics via emergency run to Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre for treatment. He was admitted to the ICU a short time later with life-threatening injuries including “numerous fractures,” the SIU said.

The Toronto Police Service notified the Special Investigations Unit of a police-involved injury at 5:17 p.m. that day. The civilian agency arrived on scene shortly after 7 p.m.

The SIU interviewed the man who was struck, known as the Complainant, on Aug. 21.

The officer who hit him with the police vehicle, identified as the Subject Official (SO), declined to be interviewed by the agency and to provide their notes, as is their legal right.

Seven witnesses were also interviewed between Aug. 8 and 22, while notes were received and reviewed by an eighth witness, Martino’s report said.

He also noted that the vehicle involved in the collision, a gray Ford Explorer, showed no “immediate signs of collision damage.” Its emergency lighting and siren were also not activated at the time of the crash, which occurred near a paved pathway, Martino indicated in his report.

The investigation, which included examining footage from two officers as well as communication recordings, determined through a re-creation with a mannequin that the officer driving the vehicle could not see the person they struck.

He said that while, the Subject Official would have been better “advised to ensure his path was clear before embarking down the hill, particularly as his line of sight over the front of his vehicle would have been obstructed given the grade of the decline.” However, he also noted that the “odds that someone would be sleeping on the hill in line with his direction of travel … were low.”

On Dec. 4, Martino said he found no “reasonable grounds” to believe that the officer “transgressed the limits of care prescribed by the criminal law when he accidentally drove over the man.”

The charges he could have faced were dangerous operation causing bodily harm and criminal negligence causing bodily harm.

“Both require something more than a simple want of care to give rise to liability. The former is predicated, in part, on conduct that amounts to a marked departure from the level of care that a reasonable person would have exercised in the circumstances,” Martino said.

“The latter is premised on even more egregious conduct that demonstrates a wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons. It is not made out unless the neglect constitutes a marked and substantial departure from a reasonable standard of care. In the instant case, the question is whether there was any want of care on the part of the SO, sufficiently serious to attract criminal sanction, that caused or contributed to the Complainant’s injuries. In my view, there was not.”

Martino added that the Subject Official was “engaged in the lawful discharge of his duties at the time of the incident” and “comported himself with due care and regard for public safety.”

“He was part of the police presence at Earlscourt Park that had been organized to preserve the peace between opposing factions at an Eritrean festival,” he wrote.

The SIU investigates incidents involving police where there has been death, serious injury, allegations of sexual assault, and/or where a firearm has been discharged at a person.

Three investigators, two forensic investigators, and one collision reconstructionist were assigned to this file, which is now closed.

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