The police officer who fatally shot Ejaz Choudry, a 62-year-old man suffering from a mental health crisis, has refused to speak with Ontario’s police watchdog about his actions last month.
The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) says the Peel Regional Police officer, whose name has not been released, declined to be interviewed and has also chosen not to submit a copy of his notes.
Under the Police Services Act, officers under investigation, referred to as “subject officers,” cannot be legally compelled to speak with the SIU, the agency said in a news release Thursday afternoon.
The Choudry family’s lawyer said it’s “troubling but not surprising” that the officer won’t speak with the SIU.
“There is nothing he could possibly say that could excuse or justify shooting Ejaz,” said Nader Hasan.
Hasan added that he and the family learned about the subject officer’s refusal to participate in an interview through media reports Thursday, and criticized the SIU for “attempting to normalize” the officer’s lack of cooperation.
“We were not given any kind of a heads up,” he said.
The officer’s refusal marks the third case to come to light in recent weeks in which subject officers have chosen not to speak with the watchdog. CBC News revealed Wednesday that two officers from Peel Region involved in the fatal Tasering of Clive Mensah also refused.
Last month, the SIU also indicated the Peel police officer who fatally shot D’Andre Campbell had declined an interview.
All three cases involve Black people or people of colour whose families say they were struggling with mental health issues.
Debate about officers’ rights
In SIU investigations, subject officers are treated essentially the same as suspects in a criminal investigation. As such, they share the same charter rights as any other member of the public, including the right not to incriminate themselves.
However, the recent cases have sparked debate about whether police officers should be compelled to speak with investigators.
“No one is holding their breath waiting for this SIU investigation,” Hasan said. “We know that they’re a paper tiger with a very poor track record. I hope they prove me wrong, but things like today’s press release do not inspire confidence.”
In 2019, the SIU filed charges against 15 officers in 13 out of 363 closed cases, amounting to a 3.6 per cent charge rate. The year before, criminal charges were laid against 17 officers in 15 out of 416 cases, again accounting for 3.6 per cent.
Choudry’s family said he suffered from schizophrenia and various other medical conditions, and that they had called a non-emergency line with concerns that he wasn’t taking his medication.
When paramedics arrived, his nephew, Hassan Choudhary, previously told CBC News, they spotted his uncle’s pocketknife — something he kept with him because he felt police “were out to get him.”
Choudry told family members he wanted to kill himself, according to Choudhary, but no mobile crisis unit was deployed to the home.
Instead, police have said they used a Taser and plastic bullets on Choudry, and opened fire when those had no effect.
Choudry died at the scene.
The SIU says it has completed its fieldwork on the case but that the investigation remains open “pending receipt of additional information.”
So far, the agency says it has interviewed nine witness officers, an unspecified number of civilian witnesses and has obtained video footage.
The SIU has not yet interviewed Choudry’s family members, saying it is awaiting a decision on their scheduling.
On that point, Hasan told CBC News that it was “outlandish” for the agency to say it was waiting for the family, adding he has repeatedly told the agency the family wants to participate in the process.
The agency also says it has requested that the family sign a medical release so that investigators can access Choudry’s medical records.
Investigators have collected a police-issued firearm, a stun gun and an anti-riot weapon that fires plastic bullets.
They have also collected a knife from the scene. The knife and firearm have been sent for forensic analysis.
An autopsy was conducted on June 22. The SIU says it is awaiting the results of both the post-mortem and toxicology examinations.
Peel police Chief Nishan Duraiappah previously called for “calm and patience” as the investigation unfolds.