A Barrie police officer has been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing after a local senior with dementia, who had gone missing from his retirement home, suffered a shoulder injury last fall.
In a report released Friday, Special Investigations Unit (SIU) director Joseph Martino determined there were no reasonable grounds to believe that the officer committed a criminal offence in connection with the man’s injury.
On the evening of Oct. 26, 2022, Barrie police were called to a local retirement home to investigate a report of a missing 85-year-old male resident who suffered from dementia and who had last been seen leaving the facility in a taxi at around 3 p.m.
Later that same evening, a Barrie police officer travelled to a home in Innisfil, where the man had lived prior to moving into the retirement home, and found the missing senior sitting inside a vehicle parked in the driveway.
The officer reportedly asked the man to give up the key, which he refused to do, before moving to insert the key into the ignition, according to the SIU's final report.
“Concerned that he might place the vehicle in motion, the (officer) grabbed the complainant by the upper left arm to remove him from the driver’s seat,” Martino said in the report.
In an effort to remove the man from the driver’s seat, the SIU says the officer grabbed the man by the upper left arm, which resulted in a shoulder injury.
The senior had had his driving privileges suspended and was unlicenced for medical reasons.
The man was taken by ambulance to Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) in Barrie for examination of a possibly dislocated shoulder, where he was later diagnosed with a fractured left humerus.
Three SIU investigators were assigned to the case on Oct. 27, after local police officials informed them of the man’s injury
A canvass for witnesses in the neighbourhood and camera footage that captured the events of the incident was unsuccessful, however, body-worn camera footage worn by the officer was provided to the SIU on Oct. 28, according to Martino's report.
Footage on the body cameras — which was turned on at 10:21 p.m., after the man had been removed from his vehicle — showed the driver’s door of the car was open, the vehicle shut off, and the senior on the ground just outside the car and just outside of view of the camera.
The officer reportedly asked the man if he wanted assistance, indicating he didn’t want to hurt his arm, at which point the senior “moaned” and the officer helped him into a seated position until the ambulance arrived.
In his report, Martino noted that the man was of “unsound mind” and had been unlicensed to drive due to dementia.
“When (the elderly man) acted as if he was going to put the vehicle in motion, the (officer) had reason to be concerned for his safety and the safety of the public," the report stated. "Whether he was acting pursuant to his statutory authority under Section 17 of the Mental Health Act, or his common-law duty to preserve and protect life, I am satisfied that the (officer) was within his rights in intervening to take the (man) into custody.”
Martino noted he was satisfied that the force used by the officer was “legally justified.”
“The (officer) had given the (man) an opportunity to turn over his key and was left with little option but to engage physically when the complainant refused and appeared as if he was going to start the car," he said.
Martino added he accepted that some combination of the officer grabbing the man's arm and pulling him from the vehicle caused the injury and that while the officer could have approached the task with a lighter touch given the man’s advanced age, he was unable to fault him for not having tailored his force “more perfectly” given the immediate need to stop the man from getting the car started.
“It would seem that the officer’s conduct fell within a range of reasonable force in the circumstances,” he stated, adding there are no reasonable grounds to believe the officer conducted himself in any way other than within the limits of the criminal law in his dealings with the complainant.
“As such, there is no basis for proceeding with charges against the officer. The file is closed.”