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Toronto constable charged in 2023 park shooting used unnecessary force: police chief report

A Toronto police constable who shot a man carrying a knife in a park last February used unnecessary force against the man, who posed no threat to police or the public, according to a new report from the chief of police.

Const. Andrew Davis did not try to de-escalate the situation and acted in a “disorderly manner” likely to discredit the police, according to the Toronto police chief’s administrative investigation of the incident, which was presented at the Toronto Police Services (TPS) Board meeting Tuesday.

Davis is already facing criminal charges for the Feb. 27 shooting of Devon Fowlin. Fowlin, who was 31 at the time, survived both gunshots after being taken to hospital with serious injuries.

Following the criminal proceedings, Davis will now face a police tribunal, per the report, which says another unnamed officer will also face a disciplinary hearing relating to the incident.

“We’re pleased that there has been a proactive assessment by TPS here,” Fowlin’s lawyer in the criminal case, David Shellnutt, told the board Tuesday.

“However, the shooting of Mr. Fowlin demonstrates a complete failure to de-escalate an interaction. Instead, we see how violence was used to escalate a non-threatening situation to the point of serious injury and near death,” Shellnutt said.

“The need to prevent situations like this from happening should be of critical importance to the board and us all.”

A white middle aged man in a grey suit and red tie is shown at a lectern from the chest up in front of a window.
Devon Fowlin’s lawyer David Shellnutt speaks to reporters outside Tuesday’s Toronto Police Services Board meeting. (CBC)

Shellnutt told the board he and his client weren’t notified by TPS about the chief’s report, and only learned it was coming before the board after a friend and activist saw it in the agenda online.

The events of the shooting

On the morning Fowling was shot, Const. Davis, along with four police officers from North York’s 12 Division, approached Fowlin after a citizen reported they were concerned about a man alone in a park with a knife in his belt, the report said.

It said police told Fowlin to lie down on the ground, but instead he backed away from the officers, after which two officers fired Tasers with no effect.

Devin Fowlin spoke with reporters Wednesday after he was shot by Toronto police back in February.
Fowlin spoke with reporters last March, less than a month after being shot twice by a police officer. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Fowlin then took the knife from his belt and raised it to his throat, according to the report, at which point Davis fired two rounds, both striking Fowlin. Fowlin was then handcuffed, given resuscitative measures and taken to hospital with serious injuries.

Fowlin told media last year he was walking his dog that morning and was not carrying his knife to threaten anyone, but because he was living out of his car and used the knife for cooking.

A case of Toronto police failing Black people: activist

Desmond Cole, an activist and journalist who described himself as a friend of Fowlin’s, also spoke to the board at Tuesday’s meeting, saying this was another incident of anti-Black racism from Toronto police. 

Cole told the board that although the chief’s report found misconduct and will lead to a disciplinary hearing for Davis, it’s not a sign the system is working as it should.

“It is not a success because the police should never have confronted and shot Devon in the first place,” he said.

A young Black man is shown from the chest up, speaking at a lectern in front of microphones. He is in front of a window inside.
Activist and journalist Desmond Cole speaking to reporters Tuesday morning. Cole, who says he’s a friend of Fowlin’s, says the chief’s report is not a success story. (CBC)

Pointing to a recent report from the Ontario Human Rights Commission that included 107 recommendations on how to eradicate anti-Black racism from Toronto policing, Cole asked how the board could have recently approved a $20 million budget increase for next year.

Other instances of misconduct found

Three other officers failed to adhere to the “applicable provincial legislation regarding the Standards of Conduct and relevant Toronto Police Service Procedures,” per the report, which does not name any of the other officers.

The two designated witness officers failed to use their in-car cameras during the incident, though they did use their body-worn cameras, which the report said mitigated the misconduct. Both matters were resolved at the unit level.

One of the two witness officers also failed to use sufficient de-escalation tactics, per the report. That matter is also heading to a police tribunal hearing.

A third officer, identified as the first attending sergeant, “mishandled” Davis’s firearm, per the chief’s report, although it said this error didn’t impact the Special Investigations Unit’s investigation into the incident, and has since been resolved.

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