The Ontario Special Investigation Unit (SIU) has cleared all Ottawa police officers of the criminal offense in the death of 23-year-old Anthony Aust last October.
The SIU, which investigates incidents involving police where there are deaths, serious injuries or allegations of sexual harassment, released its final death report on Thursday. It was revealed that Aust tried to escape police capture when he first threw a bag of drugs out the window, and then threw 12 floors from a bunk bed into his bedroom.
“There is no reasonable reason to believe that the officers involved, including the three subject officers, contributed to the complainant’s death as a result of criminal negligence,” wrote SIU Director Joseph Martino.
Aust’s death, and the tactics used by the police, have come under public scrutiny. For the past 11 months, his family and community groups have questioned whether raiding and especially a practice called “dynamic entry” was necessary in a high-rise apartment building.
Entry remains a legal technique that officers use in Ontario. Once an order is approved by a judge, it remains at the discretion of the police to decide what kind of entry they will use.
LOOK | Surveillance video of ‘dynamic entry’ in October 2020:
The drug order was executed
Aust was the subject of an execution order of the drug unit at his Jasmine Crescent family apartment on the morning of October 7th. He had been on bail pending trial for firearms and drugs at the time and was wearing a GPS wrist bracelet that monitored movements.
The SIU report said tactical officers broke down the apartment door shortly before 9 a.m. in search of “firearms, illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia”.
“With the door open, a distraction device was placed in the apartment, which exploded with a loud noise and flashing light, causing a smoky fog. Officers entered the apartment shouting their presence” Police “and instructing residents of the unit does not move “.
The three Ottawa police officers, later named as “subject officers” in the investigation, included two officers who together moved with the ram to enter the apartment, attacking the officer who placed the distraction device. All are tactical officers.
At the time of the raidAusti was in his bedroom and “in the noise of the commotion created by the police entrance … [he] “he climbed out of the bedroom window and jumped,” the report said.
Just seconds before that fatal fall, a police officer on the ground saw Austin throw a “bag” out of the same window. This bag would end up in a tree and would later be picked up by police, and tests revealed it contained fentanyl.
A closed-circuit television video camera on the outside of the building caught Aust’s ankle bracelet exploding from his leg in shock, while officers were caught rushing into his body. A tactical paramedic who was part of the execution of the order “arrived quickly and started giving first aid”.
Aust was pronounced dead shortly afterwards.
“No evidence of any direct, physical force”
Martino said he was pleased that police, acting on information from confidential sources, had reason to believe that Aust “had resumed his drug trafficking activities” and “had reason to believe that (he) was again in possession of the weapons. of fire “.
While there is no evidence that any of the tactical officers had physical contact with Austin, “the question is whether there was any desire to take care of the manner in which the police operation was set up and executed which played a role in [his]death and was savage enough to withdraw criminal sanctions. “
In Martino’s view, “there was not.”
Martino said he was “satisfied that the tactical officers had a legal basis to enter and search the apartment” after an order authorizing the search was issued the day before.
“I am further pleased that the plan developed to enter the apartment and the manner of its execution did not exceed the limits of care set by criminal law.”
The report says police met on the morning of the raid to discuss control and “the manner of entry was considered”.
Martino said another option was a “trespass and call” “where the front door is forcibly opened and residents are called one by one by officers from a security position.”
The incident commander, the senior officer overseeing the attack, chose a dynamic entry because of “the presence of third-party tenants on the floor and the risk of casualties or a barricaded person situation that develops if a person in the apartment decides to arm himself in a “violation and call scenario”.
Martino found that there were inherent dangers in both approaches because police had reason to believe Aust was still armed.
“I am not able to reasonably conclude that the choice to go with a dynamic entry was without merit.”
The officers could have planned for the escape
While Martino did not find any criminal wrongdoing, he noted that the tactical officers “did not seem to pay enough attention to the possibility that the subject of the search warrant … might try to escape capture by descending from the building.”
Witness officers told SIU that they thought it was a remote option because the apartment was on the 12th floor.
“In my opinion, the officers should have drawn their attention to this case and provided some provision for it,” Martino said. Such a provision, written, may have been a visible presence of police downstairs to deter any desire to escape through the window.
Martino acknowledged possible shortcomings in the operation, but “any such shortcomings failed to make the officers’ conduct a visible and substantial departure from a reasonable level of care.”
The force stopped dynamic inputs on several occasions
In March 2021, Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly temporarily banned the use of dynamic data in cases where police were only seeking “available evidence.” The move came during what police said was a constant review of the practice in light of the Aust case, and a court ruling criticizing the excessive use of the method.
At the time, Sloly said the “pause” would remain in place until the service completes its review and recommendations. The service was supposed to submit a final report to the board sometime before June 2021, but has not yet done so.
In a statement Thursday evening, Sloly said the force fully participated in the SIU investigation and that its conclusion “brings a closing measure”.
He said the force would review the SIU findings and issue a Section 11 report an administrative review ordered by the Police Services Act that takes a look at existing policies and makes recommendations for their improvement to the city police board.
Sloly also said the “unreserved” force gave condolences to the Aust family. The family declined to comment on the report or its findings.
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