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Court drops charges against Ontario police officers involved in fatal 2020 shooting of 18-month-old

Criminal charges laid against the three Ontario provincial police officers involved in the death of a one-year-old boy in Kawartha Lakes, Ont. in 2020 have been withdrawn.

During an appearance at the Newmarket, Ont. courthouse on Monday, Justice Paul L. Bellefontaine announced a withdrawal of charges laid on OPP constables Nathan Vanderheyden, Kenneth Pengelly and Grayson Cappus. The three constables were previously facing one count each of manslaughter, aggravated assault, and reckless discharge of a firearm in relation to the death of 18-month-old Jameson Shapiro.

On Nov. 26, 2020, Jameson was killed by police gunfire during a vehicle chase between officers and his 33-year-old father. Earlier that day, it had been reported to police that Jameson’s father had abducted the child, according to Ontario’s Special Investigation Unit, an arms-length agency that investigates police interactions that result in serious injury, death, or allegations of sexual assault.

Jameson died at the scene, while his father died from his injuries in hospital nearly a week later. While the police watchdog said evidence suggested officer gunfire killed both Jameson and his father, charges were only brought against the officers in connection with the child’s death.

In January 2021, the SIU said the three officers who opened fire had not agreed to be interviewed and were under no legal obligation to do so. At the time, the SIU had interviewed 18 police officers and 14 civilians as part of its investigation. The officers were charged by the SIU nearly two years later, in August 2022.

In a statement issued Monday morning, the Ontario Provincial Police Association said the withdrawal marked a “vindicating” result in a case that has been “tragic for all.”

“When an incident such as this occurs, it affects the families, the community, and our entire policing family.” President John Cerasuolo said in the statement. “It is our duty to serve and protect and we take that duty very seriously. Unfortunately, as police officers protect public safety in highly volatile and fast-moving dangerous situations, unexpected outcomes may result.”

Cerasuolo said the association has stated “from the outset” that the officers involved acted professionally and “courageously,” and that it was confident that the officers would not be found criminally responsible as the case moved through the courts.

“It is important for the public to understand that if police are charged with an offence, they have the presumption of innocence, and in this case, it has been determined that on the totality of the evidence there was no reasonable prospect of conviction. Our officers were doing their job according to their training,” he continued.

Speaking to reporters following the appearance, defence counsel for Pengally, Joseph Markson described a sense of relief.

“It’s the just and right outcome,” Markson said. “We’re very grateful that the system works and we always had confidence in Const. Pengally’s courage and bravery and professionalism on this tragic day.”

Lawyer Joseph Markson speaks to reporters following a withdrawal of all charges laid against the Ontario provincial police officers involved with the 2020 shooting of a 18-month-old in Kawartha Lakes, Ont. (CTV News Toronto)

Those impacted by the deaths are being encouraged to seek resources available through the Canadian Mental Health Association.

With files from The Canadian Press and CTV News’ Beth Macdonell. 

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