SIU Concludes Investigation into Custody Death in Hamilton
Case Number: 06-OCD-025
Other News Releases Related to Case 06-OCD-025
On February 9, 2006, Mr. Fournier was arrested by the HPS and lodged in a police cell. He was unresponsive during a routine cell check and taken to hospital where he died on February 12, 2006.
The SIU investigation focused on what role, if any, the police played in Mr. Fournier's death. The investigation revealed that at about 5:15 p.m. on February 9th, employees at an LCBO store on Dundurn Street in Hamilton called police to report that an intoxicated man was outside of the store, endangering himself and being a nuisance to customers.
Two officers arrived and arrested Mr. Fournier for public intoxication. Mr. Fournier was a chronic alcoholic and well known to the Hamilton police. The officers checked with the dispatcher to see if there was a spot available at the detoxification center and were told there was not. Mr. Fournier was brought to the central holding station.
When the officers got to the station, Mr. Fournier refused to get out of the cruiser. Two officers physically removed him from the cruiser and dragged him by his arms into the station. Mr. Fournier became verbally abusive and physically aggressive. When the two officers tried to raise him from the floor and take him into the cell, he wiggled free of their grasp and assumed what was described as a combative stance with the officers. He moved toward one of the officers and when the officer raised his arms, the officer made contact with Mr. Fournier's chest. As a result, Mr. Fournier lost his balance and fell backwards, striking the back of his head on the floor.
An officer immediately examined Mr. Fournier's head and found no sign of external injury. Mr. Fournier re-assumed his belligerent attitude and all the officers present believed he was not hurt. He was lodged in a cell.
At 7:35 p.m., the video monitoring system captures Mr. Fournier up and about in his cell. He then went back to sleep and appeared to be sleeping during the routine cell checks. At 11:30 p.m., it was decided that Mr. Fournier could likely be safely released. An officer went to Mr. Fournier's cell to start the process and found him lying on his back and snoring in his cell. When the officer could not rouse Mr. Fournier, the paramedics were called. Mr. Fournier was taken to a hospital where he was in a coma until February 12, 2006, which is when he died.
A post mortem examination determined Mr. Fournier died from brain injuries due to blunt trauma to the head consistent with a fall.
Although there is evidence that Mr. Fournier fell in the LCBO parking lot even before the police were called, Director Cornish concluded that Mr. Fournier suffered the acute injury when he fell to the floor in the holding cells. He also noted, "The outward signs of the injury were slow to manifest themselves - what signs there may have been were masked by his level of intoxication. Indeed, it must be noted that the officers are not alone in assuming that a person who is breathing and snoring cannot be in serious medical difficulty."
Based on all the available evidence, Director Cornish concluded, "I believe that Mr. Fournier's fall while in police custody was a result of a scuffle, which he initiated. The force that the police used in that interaction was not unreasonable and certainly was not used with the intention of causing him to fall, let alone to cause him any injury. I also do not believe that the involved officers were criminally negligent in their duty of care of Mr. Fournier."
The SIU is an independent government agency that investigates the conduct of officials (police officers as well as special constables with the Niagara Parks Commission and peace officers with the Legislative Protective Service) that may have resulted in death, serious injury, sexual assault and/or the discharge of a firearm at a person. All investigations are conducted by SIU investigators who are civilians. Under the Special Investigations Unit Act, the Director of the SIU must
- consider whether the official has committed a criminal offence in connection with the incident under investigation
- depending on the evidence, cause a criminal charge to be laid against the official where grounds exist for doing so, or close the file without any charges being laid
- publicly report the results of its investigations
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