For the second time in eight days, Ontario’s police watchdog has cleared members of Peel Regional Police of criminal wrongdoing for involvement in the death of a Mississauga resident experiencing a mental illness crisis.
In an report released on Tuesday, Special Investigations Unit director Joseph Martino found no reason to charge officers involved in the fatal shooting of 62-year-old Ejaz Choudry, an infirm father of four who had armed himself with a knife during a mental health lapse on June 20, 2020. The family said they were “deeply disappointed” but had long ago come to expect the outcome.
“We’ve seen it again and again,” said a nephew, Hassan Choudry. “The police claim they intervened to protect my uncle, instead they shot him multiple times. And every family who goes through this sees the same answer.”
Last Monday, the director reached the same determination in the death of 30-year-old Clive Mensah, who was tasered 12 times and blasted with pepper spray by Peel officers who wrongly suspected him of trespassing.
In both cases, Peel Police Chief Nishan Duraiappah issued statements offering condolences to the families. “We recognize that more has to be done to support those in crisis, and police should not be the primary responders called upon to manage mental health calls,” he added in a statement released Tuesday. “While we are addressing the growing needs for mental health support, we know that gaps still exist.”
At the time of Mr. Choudry’s death, marchers filled city streets across North American to decry systemic racism and call for police reform. In the report, the SIU director agreed that systemic issues “are of clear importance” but wrote that they are beyond the SIU’s narrow mandate to determine the potential criminality an individual police officer.
The SIU report includes a detailed narrative of the events leading up to that fatal volley, beginning with a 5 p.m. call by his daughter to paramedics. Her father suffered from schizophrenia and had stopped taking his medication, she said, leaving him confused and needing medical attention. He had a small pocketknife, she told a dispatcher, but insisted he wasn’t dangerous.
The mention of a knife prompted the dispatcher to ask for police accompaniment at the paramedic call, the report states.
Upon arrival at Mr. Choudry’s Mississauga address, two officers entered the apartment with his daughter. She translated into Punjabi as the police asked him to show them the knife. He ordered them to leave and retrieved a “large kitchen knife from under his prayer mat” and pointed it toward the officers, the report states.
From there, the responding officers retreated with the daughter and asked the force’s Tactical Response Unit (TRU) to respond.
Family members and officers, including one who spoke Punjabi, made several more attempts to talk with Mr. Choudry through the door. “He said he would not come out because he thought the police would shoot him,” the report states. When the TRU took over the scene, the family was told to leave the scene and refrain from further contact.
Initially, the officer in charge planned to have his officers secure the area until Mr. Choudry came out of his own volition. But around 8 p.m., when Mr. Choudry stopped responding to prompts and police learned more about his medical afflictions, they decided to force their way into the apartment and check on Mr. Choudry’s well-being, the report states.
The first officers through the balcony door yelled, “Put down the knife.” Rather than comply, Mr. Choudry moved toward the tactical team, the report states. One officer discharged his taser while another fired three plastic rounds.
Though his family and physician said Mr. Choudry was frail and walked with difficulty, he continued to close ground on the officers.
Two quick shots from a third officer’s 40-calibre handgun sent Mr. Choudry backwards into his living room, where he ended up on the floor, but still clutching the knife. The officers fired two more plastic bullets and kicked the knife from his hand.
He was declared dead minutes later.
Mr. Martino determined that the shots were justifiable and “proportional to the threat posed by Mr. Choudry.”
The family said they hope to press for broader changes during a coroner’s inquest that has yet to be scheduled.
“As a family, we have come to sense that we want to push for things that will prevent this from happening to your uncle or your father or your family member,” said Mr. Choudry, the nephew. “We shouldn’t have more children left without fathers.”
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