The fatal police shooting of a man in mental distress who had fled a Toronto hospital in February raises questions about whether officers should be given different training for crisis situations, Special Investigations Unit director Ian Scott said Monday.
“There are legitimate questions arising from this tragic incident,” he said in a statement, which explained why the SIU is not charging the officer who shot 29-year-old Michael Eligon.
On the morning of Feb. 3, Mr. Eligon left the Toronto East General Hospital, which he had been admitted to involuntarily under the Mental Health Act. He was wearing a hospital gown, toque and socks. He entered a convenience store, picking up two pairs of scissors and cutting the left hand of the owner, who called 911, the SIU said.
Soon after, Mr. Eligon unsuccessfully demanded car keys from two women, who also called 911, the SIU said. He moved onto Milverton Boulevard, where he attempted to break in to two homes, prompting another 911 call.
Twelve officers arrived, surrounding Mr. Eligon and shouting at him to drop the scissors. The SIU said he ignored them, and seven officers formed a line, drawing their guns, while one officer continued to yell “drop the knives” and “stop moving.”
One officer backed into a truck, causing the distance between him and Mr. Eligon, who was still not responding to the police demands, to shrink. The officers say Mr. Eligon said something along the lines of “One of you is going to die,” and continued to move forward and ignore demands, the SIU said.
Three shots were fired, one of them hitting Mr. Eligon in the clavicle. He was rushed to another hospital, where he later died.
Mr. Scott said the officer who fired the fatal shot was justified in using that level of force, to defend himself or others. The director of the province’s police watchdog acknowledged that while there wasn’t criminal wrongdoing, a number of questions have been raised by the death.
Whether there should be different crisis training, was among points Mr. Scott raised. All Toronto officers are given mental-health training each year when they have two days of use-of-force training. It includes instruction on how to calm situations down verbally and realistic role-play scenarios that mimic responding to someone with a mental illness. Additional training varies by specific job and the year.
As well, Mr. Scott questioned how Mr. Eligon eloped from the hospital and whether frontline officers should be given tasers, a less than lethal force option. Ontario regulations set out that only supervisors and specialized units can carry the conducted energy weapons.
The questions would be better addressed by a coroner’s inquest, Mr. Scott said.
Mr. Eligon’s death prompted a vigil retracing his last steps earlier this month, with organizers calling for more intensive crisis training for officers.
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