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'There's a lot I want to say': Toronto police chief reveals new details in death of woman who fell from balcony
TORONTO -- Toronto's police chief said there is “a whole lot” he wants to say about the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who fell from a 24th-floor balcony Wednesday evening, but that he can't now that the province’s police watchdog has been called in to investigate.
“When you’re responsible for community safety, one of the worst things that you have is that vacuum effect: It’s when you have a strong idea of what’s gone on and you want an opportunity to present to the public to the best of your ability, but you can’t,” Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said at a news conference Friday.
Under Ontario law, police officers are not allowed to release any details of an incident being investigated by the SIU.
“And then what happens is you have opportunists that will step in and fill in those blanks and those gaps and a lot of it is misinformation, a lot of it is lies. And then because we’re held back by not saying anything, it really does create a very toxic environment.”
Saunders told reporters that officers received three separate 911 calls about the incident on Wednesday evening, and that two of them mentioned assaults, involving knives, prompting a heightened or “priority one” response.
“The call was for assaults and knives and were stated by at least two of the three people who called,” he said.
He said that seizures were also discussed in at least one of the calls, but the fact that weapons were alleged to have been involved meant that a Mental Health Crisis Intervention Team (MCIT), a police unit that includes a specially trained nurse, would not have been dispatched.
Relatives have said that the 29-year-old was in the midst of a mental health crisis and that they called police to the apartment building near Bloor Street and High Park Avenue in order to get her help.
When officers arrived on scene, the family’s lawyer Knia Singh said, police spoke with Korchinski-Paquet, her mother Claudette Beals-Clayton and her brother Reece Korchinski-Beals, in the hallway of the apartment building.
Regis then asked to go inside her apartment and was followed in by several officers, according to Singh.
After a minute or two, Singh said, the mother and brother heard Regis call out “‘mom help, mom help, mom help.'”
She then fell to her death some time later.
Family’s lawyer clarifies statement on Regis’ death
After meeting with Saunders on Friday, Singh said that the family wanted to clarify its statement on Regis’ death, referring to the “misinformation” Saunders addressed an hour earlier.
“The family and I have spoken and we do want to make the community and the public understand that at the time certain statements were made prior to the press conference yesterday, the family had a lot of emotion and grief and were mourning the loss of their daughter.”
“They know certain facts and one major important fact is: they called for police assistance and their daughter ended up dead.”
Singh said Regis’ mother had previously made a statement on social media that implied police had thrown her daughter from the balcony Wednesday night.
“I can verify, on behalf of the family, that this was not witnessed by the mother. However, at the time of the statement that is what the mother believed.
“The family still believes that police intervention has to do with their daughter’s death,” he said.
Police board asks SIU to provide regular updates on probe
In a statement released on Friday afternoon, the Toronto Police Services Board said that “everyone wants and deserves answers” about what happened and that it is important the SIU conduct its investigation into the incident “as expeditiously as possible.”
The board also took the relatively unusual step of calling on the SIU to provide regular updates about the status of its investigation.
“This will bring additional transparency to the process and enhance public confidence,” the statement said.
Subject officer being interviewed
The SIU said in a release issued Friday afternoon that it is continuing to “make progress” in its investigation into the events leading up to Korchinski-Paquet’s death but can’t “make any further comment with respect to what happened” at this point.
They said that that they have already interviewed four of the five witness officers and will be interviewing the subject officer later Friday. They say that investigators have also spoken to several civilians “who were able to shed some light on what transpired” and conducted a canvas of the area in order to locate video footage.
“A great deal of information has made its way into the public domain, but it is too soon for the SIU to confirm or deny the validity of what is being said,” the statement reads. “We urge all parties to avoid rushing to any conclusions about the events in question before the investigation is complete.”
Union calls for patience
Speaking with CP24 on Friday morning, the head of the union representing Toronto police officers said that it is important that people withhold judgement until all the facts and evidence are available.
“In the absence of information people are just putting out this type of narrative based on nothing, demonizing our police officers without any facts or evidence,” Toronto Police Association President Mike McCormack said. “It is just completely wrong and what we are saying is let’s get the facts and evidence and then that would be the appropriate time to have that discussion.”
Saunders echoed that sentiment when he called for “calm” ahead of a planned protest in Toronto on Saturday.
"I request that the public and the communities wait for all of the facts regarding this case so that we can move forward once we establish exactly what happened that evening. And when we have them all, hopefully collectively, we can all deal with them," Saunders said.
Similarly, Singh said that Regis’ family is also hoping for a peaceful protest, while adding that they are not involved with the planning of the upcoming demonstration.
The SIU has said that it will publicly release its findings as soon as the investigation is completed.