Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit has concluded that there are no reasonable grounds to charge any Hamilton Police officer with a criminal offence in relation to the shooting death of Steve Mesic.
The 45 year old was gunned down back in June, during a confrontation with officers in the area of the LINC and Upper Wentworth Street.
The SIU finds that an “aggressive” Mesic was advancing on police with a shovel, holding it in a baseball stance and did not respond when asked to drop them. The report concludes that the officers held their fire until Mesic was within striking distance and that firearms were only discharged when there were no other reasonable alternatives.
The SIU also says that the officers did not know that earlier that morning, Mesic had walked in front of a bus on the Jolley Cut in an apparent attempt to commit suicide — or that the home they thought he was trying to break into with a shovel was his own.
The official release from the SIU
The Director of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), Ian Scott, has concluded that there are no reasonable grounds to charge any Hamilton Police Service officer with a criminal offence in relation to the shooting death of 45-year-old Mladen (Steve) Mesic in June of 2013.
The SIU assigned seven investigators and four forensic investigators to probe the circumstances of this incident.
Two witness officers and 22 civilian witnesses were interviewed. Both subject officers provided the SIU with a copy of their duty notes and both consented to be interviewed by the SIU.
The length of this investigation was necessitated by the important forensic testing conducted by the Centre of Forensic Sciences, including examinations of Mr. Mesic’s DNA and the firearms used in the incident, which was completed in the last few weeks.
The SIU investigation found that the following events took place on Friday, June 7, 2013:
• At approximately 9:15 a.m., one of the subject officers was dispatched to the Lincoln Alexander Parkway (‘Linc’) near Upper Wentworth Street to investigate a call that a man, later determined to be Mr. Mesic, was walking into traffic.
The officer located Mr. Mesic and parked his marked cruiser in front of him. Mr. Mesic turned and began walking southbound. The officer exited his cruiser, walked toward Mr. Mesic and asked him to come back so that he could talk to him.
Mr. Mesic continued to walk away from the subject officer. The officer returned to his cruiser and backed it up to the Upper Wentworth Street exit. He pulled up beside Mr. Mesic and tried to have a conversation with him. Mr. Mesic largely ignored the officer and continued walking toward Upper Wentworth Street. The officer was concerned for his wellbeing and followed him on foot.
• The second subject officer arrived to assist. The officers temporarily lost sight of Mr. Mesic.
• The two subject officers were deciding what to do when they heard banging sounds coming from the back door of a residence. The subject officers ran towards the sound. When they arrived at a chain link fence, they saw Mr. Mesic on the other side of the fence, attempting to pry open the rear sliding door of a townhouse at 1146 Upper Wentworth Street using a garden shovel with a square head. The vegetation of the area where the officers were now standing consisted of low lying bush and damp uncut grass and weeds varying in height from fifteen centimetres to two metres.
• One of the subject officers yelled at Mr. Mesic, asking, ‘What are you doing?” Mr. Mesic turned his attention toward the subject officers and walked toward them in an aggressive manner causing both officers to unholster their firearms. Mr. Mesic attempted to climb the chain link fence with the shovel in his hand. Both officers yelled at Mr. Mesic to “Drop the shovel and get down from the fence”.
• Mr. Mesic stopped trying to climb the fence, took a couple of steps east along the fence line and began pulling at the bottom of the fence. The fence at this spot had some clearance at the bottom and was loose enough that it could be easily pulled up. One of the officers considered transitioning to his pepper spray, but abandoned that idea when he realized that Mr. Mesic was now on their side of the fence. Mr. Mesic was holding the shovel with both hands like a baseball bat over his right shoulder. The distance between the closest officer and Mr. Mesic was three to four metres. The officers yelled at Mr. Mesic to drop the shovel. Instead, Mr. Mesic advanced towards the officers. When Mr. Mesic was approximately two metres away from the officers, and within a distance where he could swing the shovel and hit one of them, both officers discharged their firearms. Mr. Mesic collapsed and died shortly thereafter.
• A subsequent port-mortem report concluded Mr. Mesic died of multiple gunshot wounds.
There were a number of points that the two subject officers did not know when they became involved with Mr. Mesic.
They did not know that earlier that morning, Mr. Mesic walked in front of a bus on the Jolley Cut and was struck by that bus in an apparent attempt to commit suicide. Further, they did not know that he darted out in front of a motor vehicle on the Linc, causing that car to veer to its left to avoid a collision. Finally, the subject officers did not know that Mr. Mesic lived at 1146 Upper Wentworth Street, the house they thought he was attempting to break into with the shovel.
DNA analysis confirmed that Mr. Mesic’s DNA was found on the shovel located at the scene. Further, a civilian witness in one of the connecting townhouses heard someone, presumably one of the subject officers, yell to someone to put down the shovel.
Forensic analysis related to the firearms, cartridge cases and bullets concluded that each subject officer discharged his weapon multiple times, and that at least one bullet from each of the officers’ handguns struck Mr. Mesic. In other words, both subject officers were responsible for the use of lethal force against Mr. Mesic.
Director Scott said, “In my view, the subject officers were justified in their use of lethal force in these circumstances. By the time Mr. Mesic was on the same side of the fence as the subject officers, the option of pepper spray was not feasible due to the imminent threat Mr. Mesic represented to the two subject officers. Because neither officer had a conducted energy weapon on his person, this use of force option was not available to them. Further, the officers could not easily disengage due to the rough terrain and the short distance between themselves and Mr. Mesic. The officers were confronted by an aggressive individual holding a shovel in a baseball stance who was not responding to multiple commands to drop the weapon and was continuing to advance towards them. Both officers held their fire until Mr. Mesic was within striking distance of one of the officers. It was only when there appeared to be no reasonable alternative that both officers discharged their firearms. Accordingly, while Mr. Mesic’s death is a tragic event and the subject officers were responsible for his demise, I lack the reasonable grounds to believe that they can be held criminally liable for this use of lethal force.”
The SIU is an arm’s length agency that investigates reports involving police where there has been death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault.
Statement from Hamilton Police Chief Glenn De Caire
Today, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) issued the results of its investigation into the police-involved death of Mr. Steve Mesic that occurred on June 7, 2013. The Hamilton Police Service is prohibited in law from speaking about an ongoing SIU investigation. Media releases to inform the public about the investigation must come from, and can only come from, the lead investigative agency, the SIU. The SIU investigation is now complete.
The Hamilton Police Service cooperated fully with the SIU investigators from start to finish. The SIU requested voluntary interviews with the officers. Our subject officers voluntarily waived their Constitutional Rights and provided full statements and voluntarily turned over their notes to investigators. Each witness officer also fully co-operated. With the full support of this Service, the officers remain on active duty.
The Service will complete a full investigation of this occurrence as required by Ontario Regulation 673/98, Section 11, of the Police Services Act and will review our service, policies and the response of our members. This investigative review will be provided to our governance body, the Police Services Board.
The Hamilton Police Service is committed to answer any and all questions related to our involvement for the family, the community and for our members. This is and will be done through multiple systems of oversight and accountability already well established. We will respond, fully, in the appropriate legal proceeding where the evidence of the Service members and civilian witnesses will be presented, tested under cross examination and a legal decision rendered. Full transparency, accountability and explanation is not to be confused with immediacy as these investigations take time.
We will continue to train our members to defuse, de-escalate and respond to critical incidents as we have for many years. We will continue our ongoing training initiatives in: Tactical Communication, Suicide Intervention – ASIST and Safe Talk Program, Excited Delirium and Positional Asphyxia, Psychosis and Emotionally Disturbed Persons Interactions, Mental Health Act and Criminal Code Legislation, Conflict and Crisis Intervention and Resolution and Prisoner Care and Control.
We will continue with our ACTION crime strategy, including the Social Navigator program and we will continue the longstanding and proven COAST Response. These strategies are designed to provide the care that people need and to provide that care when they most need it.
The Hamilton Police Service will work with and assess any recommendation of the Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services that will help to improve how we, in policing, serve our community. As the Ministry is currently conducting reviews of Use of Force and Police Interaction with Persons with Mental Illness; we will assist in any manner appropriate to help the Ministry develop provincial best practices.
To support the Ministry, the Hamilton Police Service has already committed to provide resources and information to guide and advance public safety policy, training, supervision and accountability.~ We will be part of this process and we are committed to participate with our governing Ministry as we work towards the common goal to ensure policing to the community is provided at the highest possible levels.
Respecting our oath of office, the obligations in law to our sworn duties and commitment to the open, public and ongoing legal process where these matters are to be heard, which will include a mandatory Coroner’s inquest, the Service will not be commenting in the media any further. Please contact the SIU with any questions in relation to the SIU investigative results.