A Toronto police tactical officer has been charged with manslaughter in the death of a 26-year-old man, the first such charge in a police shooting in the city in 13 years, the Special Investigations Unit said Wednesday.
The announcement comes at an uncomfortable time, as the service and the SIU spar over allegations of police brutality at the G20 summit.
The officer in question, Constable David Cavanagh, collared one of the suspected gunmen in the Boxing Day shootout that killed Jane Creba and once helped tackle an armed man after a mid-day foot chase.
It was another alleged high-risk takedown that resulted in charges against the 34-year-old.
Around 1 a.m. on Sept. 29, the Emergency Task Force arrived at Eric Osawe’s third-floor suite, near Bloor Street West and Kipling Avenue, to execute a search warrant. Mr. Osawe was shot and taken to St. Michael’s Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. His brother was arrested at the scene on weapons charges.
Fellow officers, including the commander of the ETF, were reluctant to discuss the case, but confirmed Const. Cavanagh had continued his regular duties with the tactical unit during the SIU investigation. He is now suspended with pay.
“He’s one of our police officers and it’s unfortunate this had to happen,” said Toronto Police Association President Mike McCormack. “We have total confidence in his professionalism and his ability in the service.”
Officers also said Const. Cavanagh was involved in the gun-point takedown of Jorrell Simpson-Rowe less than half an hour after the December, 2005 gun battle that left Ms. Creba dead on Yonge Street.
Acting on a tip from a cab driver, Const. Cavanagh rushed to Castle Frank subway station to intercept two men who had fled the scene of the incident. He later testified that he and three other officers hid in a staircase while Mr. Simpson-Rowe and another man got off a train.
When the pair saw the police, they slowed down, then bolted in the other direction but had nowhere to run. Const. Cavanagh straddled Mr. Simpson-Rowe and handcuffed the teen, who was found to be carrying a handgun in his right pocket. Mr. Simpson-Rowe was ultimately convicted of second-degree murder.
According to a 2005 annual police report, Constable Cavanagh was also involved in capturing another shooting suspect shortly before Christmas. Responding to a report of shots fired, he and his partner chased a man through crowds of afternoon shoppers on Parliament Street. When a courier grabbed and held the suspect, Constable Cavanagh crashed into them, knocking everyone over and flinging a handgun into a snowbank.
“It was inevitable he was going to get caught,” Constable Cavanagh is quoted as saying in the report. “It could have turned out a lot worse.”
The charge against him comes at a tense time for Toronto police and the SIU. On Monday, Chief Bill Blair accused the police watchdog of relying on a “doctored” video in one of its investigations of excessive force at the G20, prompting SIU director Ian Scott to reopen the investigation and ask that the chief prove his contention. The spat, along with several other probes into the G20, have helped focus attention on police.
“People are beginning to say ‘wait a minute, this has gone too far,’” said John Sewell, a former mayor and police critic, who said it was unusual for an officer to face such serious charges. “One has to think that the evidence is quite exceptional.”
The last Toronto officer charged with manslaughter after a shooting was Constable Rick Shank, following a 1997 incident in which police surrounded the car of a suspected drug dealer on Kennedy Road. Mr. Shank was acquitted.
Four officers were acquitted in the 2003 death of Otto Vass, who died from a fat embolism released in his body while he struggled with police.
A father of two, Mr. Osawe was born in Nigeria and grew up in the Jane and Finch area. He spent time in prison and, released a few months before his death, had found work and moved away from his old neighbourhood.
“He was in bed [at the time of the ETF raid] I think, because he had to work the next day,” said Prasanna Balasundaram, a lawyer for his parents, Kings Osawe and Magdalene Osawe. A lawyer for his brother, Ebony Osawe, said his client is out on bail and his case is still in the pre-trial stages.
The mens' family, meanwhile, greeted news of the charges with quiet grief.
“I don’t know what to say. We’re waiting,” said a woman who identified herself as his relative Wednesday. “We just want justice.”
With a report from Stephanie Chambers