The Ontario police watchdog has ruled that there will be no criminal charges against officers involved in the 2019 death of an unarmed black man with a mental illness who obeyed a police ordered to get to the ground before he was Tasered and pepper sprayed in the backyard of his own home.
In a decision released on Monday, Special Investigations Unit (SIU) director Joseph Martino concluded that the three Peel Regional Police officers acted reasonably when they restrained 30-year-old Clive Mensah , at his home in Mississauga, Ont., on November 20, 2019.
“While there is no doubt that significant force was used against the plaintiff, I am convinced it was not illegal,” Martino said in the report.
“Wouldn’t the police have been better advised to simply move in to attempt to take physical control of the complainant before resorting to a weapon?” He wrote. “However, it must be taken into account that police officers involved in potentially unstable situations do not need to measure the nature and extent of their force with precision.”
Mensah’s family released a written statement on Monday saying they were devastated by the move.
“No family should have to lose a loved one this way. Clive was alone and scared and had done nothing wrong,” they said.
Mensah, his family says, was a gentle giant who loved basketball and music and cared about his faith. He also suffered from a mental health problem – possibly schizophrenia – and, according to a medical report, he was “frequently observed talking loudly to himself.”
It is not known whether he was experiencing a schizophrenic episode the night he died. What is known is that police were called to the Mensah neighborhood over multiple noise complaints, where an officer located him and told him to go home.
He did, but less than an hour later he was dead.
Officer noted Mensah ‘needed help’, did not call crisis team
The first call to police came around 2:40 a.m. from another tenant in Mensah’s home, according to the SIU report. The tenant complained that Mensah was making excessive noise but had left the house. Shortly after, the tenant called the police again, saying this time that Mensah may have returned with another person, is still causing trouble and may be intoxicated.
At 3:15 am, police received another complaint, this time from another caller, about a person on the street “walking up and down, swinging their arms, screaming and screaming”.
Of the three officers who detained Mensah that night, only one agreed to be interviewed by SIU investigators and submit their notes. The other two refused, as the Ontario Police Services Act allows them to do.
“According to the officer, the complainant needed help given his behavior and it was imperative that he be apprehended quickly,” the report said.
But if the officer thought Mensah needed help, at no time did the police call a crisis team to the scene. It echoes a familiar pattern where people in crisis are killed in interactions with police rather than receiving help – something mental health advocates have sounded the alarm bells for in recent years.
The Peel Regional Police 24-hour Crisis Response Team, which matches an undercover officer with a mental health official, has not been deployed, the report said.
“Should he have been?” Martino asks in the report. Police had no specific information indicating that Mensah could have been in crisis, he said. And while officers might have assumed he was struggling, “things moved quickly” between the time Mensah was first located and when he entered the courtyard of his house.
Police ‘ignored’ Mensah lived at home: report
According to the report, officers “were unaware” that Mensah lived at the house and believed he may have been intoxicated when they followed him to the backyard. This was despite the original 911 call from a tenant in the house, raising questions about what dispatchers communicated to agents answering the call.
As UKTN News first reported, inside the backyard, police ordered Mensah, who weighed six feet three inches and 334 pounds, face down on the deck with his hands behind his back . He complied, but police said he continued to move his arms. It was then that one of the three officers shot him.
The report indicates that Mensah then stood up and walked towards the officer, who stepped back from the bridge. A second Taser was fired at Mensah, who by this time was also off the deck and went “rigid”, falling “face down” to the ground.
Two officers then attempted to hold Mensah’s arms while the third stood on his legs.
The report says Mensah “displayed incredible strength and was able to ward off the officer’s efforts,” and a third Taser was discharged. When the tasers seemed to have no effect, one of the officers fired pepper spray at Mensah’s head before he was handcuffed face down behind his back.
A coroner’s report would later conclude that Mensah’s cause of death was “undetermined”.
“The cause of death of this man was multifactorial in nature, with possible contributions from his state of restlessness, interaction with the police including blunt injuries, his restraint, his lying down in the context of morbid obesity and the perimortem deployment of [Conducted Energy Weapons] and [Oleoresin Capsicum] spray, ”the postmortem examination said.
Officers ‘may not have acted as quickly as they could have’
Given the known health risks of placing an obese person in a prone or face-down position with their arms behind their backs, the SIU report said, officers “would have done well to reposition” Mensah quickly.
Still, Martino concluded: “While I believe that the officers involved at the scene may not have acted as quickly as they should have removed the complainant from his prone position after he had been handcuffed, their breaches do not constitute a marked and substantial deviation. a reasonable standard of care. “
At various points in the report, Martino refers to Mensah’s alleged “incredible strength”, saying he posed a “formidable physical challenge to the officers” and was able to “ward off” their attempts to hold him back.
WATCH | A young black man died after suffering a Taser. His family is asking for answers:
The officer who spoke to investigators described Mensah “as being in a frenzied state and believed he was in the throes of excited delirium” – a controversial state unrecognized in the report. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) and generally understood to be related to drug use or mental illness.
“You are there to serve and protect. Do not serve and kill ‘
On its website, the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General states, “In general, a person with excited delirium shows signs of serious mental disorder and may act violently and aggressively.” The information can be found in a section of the website dedicated to use of force training for security officers.
If a person appears to be in a state of excited delirium, guards should avoid agitating them, the page says.
A person in this state “should also not be held face down on the ground, and there should be no pressure on their chest,” he said, noting that the risk of cutting off the air supply is “much higher. for people with excited delirium ”.
Mensah’s family have been waiting almost 18 months for the SIU report and hope to be held to account in his death.
They previously told UKTN News they wondered if Mensah would still be alive if it weren’t for the fact that he was black.
In Monday’s statement, the family also said they never heard from Peel police about Mensah’s death and never received an apology.
“And now we see that no one will be held responsible,” they said.
Previously, the family said they relived Mensah’s death with every story they saw about black youth when interacting with police.
“They have no right to take his life away,” his uncle, William Owusu, told UKTN News. “You are there to serve and protect. Not to serve and to kill.”
The SIU investigates reports involving police in which there have been fatalities, serious injuries or allegations of sexual assault.
For more stories about the experiences of black Canadians – from anti-black racism to successes within the black community – check out Being Black in Canada, a UKTN project of which black Canadians can be proud. You can read more stories here.