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Toronto police cleared in death of man Tasered eight times in bathtub

Toronto police cleared in death of man Tasered eight times in bathtub
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Rodrigo Almonicid Gonzalez died in 2015 after an incident involving more than 10 police officers including a tactical squad.  (Family photo)  

News reporter

Thu., March 23, 2017

Ontario’s police watchdog has cleared Toronto police in the death of a man who died after he was Tasered eight times by police in his bathtub.

Tony Loparco, director of the Special Investigations Unit, said in a news release Thursday that there are no reasonable grounds to lay criminal charges against any officers in connection to the Nov. 7, 2015 death of Rodrigo Almonacid Gonzalez.

Gonzalez, 43, a part-time cleaner at a hospital and father of two,that began after he locked himself in the bathroom, prompting his wife to call police to his family’s apartment in the west end.

More than 10 police officers responded, including a tactical squad carrying a battering ram and shields, and the incident culminated in the repeated use of two conducted energy weapons, better known as Tasers.

Gonzalez was later rolled out on a stretcher, his head was rapidly moving from side to side, according to time-stamped surveillance video obtained by the Star in 2015. He was admitted to St. Joseph’s Health Centre and died the following day.

The two unnamed Toronto police officers at the centre of the probe refused to participate in the SIU interview and did not provide the watchdog with copies of their duty notes, as is their legal right.

The civilian watchdog’s investigation included a review of a 12-minute audio recording that captured the police negotiation, security footage, medical records, data from the two Tasers used, and a post-mortem report that included a toxicology report.

According to Loparco, the SIU — which probes deaths, serious injuries and allegations of sexual assault involving police in Ontario — did not immediately take over the case because Gonzalez had suffered no serious injuries that required treatment, and toxicology tests showed the presence of cocaine. The police watchdog began investigating after Gonzalez’s death.

According to the probe, police responding to a “panicked and frantic” 911 call, upon entry, could hear noises coming the bathroom and were concerned there was a woman inside being assaulted. “As such, the officer drew his gun and demanded the bathroom door be opened. There was no response.”

An officer was ultimately able to force the door open slightly and could see that Gonzalez was alone, grasping a toilet lid above his head. Other officers soon arrived.

According to the SIU, a witness told police Gonzalez “had gone on a rampage, smashing everything in the apartment, and that he had recently consumed cocaine.”

Toronto’s police’s Emergency Task Force (ETF) arrived because Gonzalez was barricaded; one of the ETF officers then began negotiations. When Gonzalez would not open the door, officers from the ETF drilled a hole, and told the SIU they saw him inside with blood on his hands, face and head.

Concerned he may be harming himself, police forced their way into the bathroom to arrest Gonzalez under Ontario’s Mental Health Act.

One officer holding a riot shield approached Gonzalez, and claims he could see that he was holding a four- to six-inch screwdriver — a claim contested by Gonzalez’s family in a lawsuit filed against Toronto police last year.

“The officer raised his shield for protection and shoved Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez backwards, causing him to land on his back in the bathtub which had four to six inches of water in it. Mr. Almonacid Gonzalez began lashing out and punching the officers,” according to Loparco.

Two of the officers then Tasered Gonzalez a total of eight times. Police then handcuffed him, arrested him under the Mental Health Act, and took him to hospital.

Loparco said there were no concerns with officer conduct until the ETF forced their way into the bathroom, but said their conduct inside was difficult to assess because the audio recording “only offers limited insight into the precise details about what happened.”

He noted that officers are “unclear” on a vital detail: whether Gonzalez was holding an object that could be used as a weapon. Only one officer made that claim.

Loparco also said the multiple firings of the Taser while Gonzalez was wet and in a pool of water “initially caused me great concern.”

“However, the post-mortem report has assuaged my preliminary concerns with respect to the physiological effects of the CEW use” on Gonzalez, namely that the cause of death was determined to be complications of acute cocaine toxicity.

According to the SIU, the post-mortem report did not indicate that the Taser used played a role in Gonzalez’ death.

“While it is worrisome that there were eight separate discharges by two different (Tasers), some of which overlapped with one another, the evidence establishes that (Gonzalez) was able to struggle through the pain and continue to resist the officers. This would provide a basis for subsequent discharges,” Loparco said.

Loparco concludes there is no evidence to attribute Gonzalez’ injuries or death to the use of excessive force by the police, meaning no charges will be laid against the officers.
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