Manitoba’s police watchdog has found no wrongdoing on the part of Winnipeg police officers in a fatal Taser encounter more than two years ago, a case that forced the Independent Investigation Unit to go to court in order to obtain the officers’ notes and reports.
The incident in question happened on July 29, 2018 near Winnipeg’s Chinatown.
Police said paramedics requested police assistance when responding to a medical call in the area of Alexander Avenue and Fountain Street at about 10:30 p.m.
They said Matthew Fosseneuve. 34, was very aggressive and threatened officers with a brick before an officer used a Taser on him.
In his report, IIU civilian director Zane Tessler said he found no evidence that the officer who deployed the Taser bears responsibility for Fosseneuve’s death.
Tessler noted that the coroner’s report found Fosseneuve’s cause of death was heart disease, a pre-existing that was exacerbated by the methamphetamine in his system and physiologic stress of the encounter with police. Further, the medical examiner specifically ruled out the use of the Taser as a contributor to Fosseneuve’s death.
“It can be concluded that the death of [Fosseneuve], as tragic as it is, resulted from pre-existing conditions to which no police action unlawfully contributed in any degree,” Tessler wrote.
The officer who deployed the Taser wrote in his notes that he was fearful for the safety of cadets who were on scene, as well as for his own safety and that of his partner’s. He said he used his Taser three times because Fosseneuve was violently resisting arrest.
Court fight to get cadets’ notes
In his report, Tessler notes that the IIU’s investigation was delayed due to the time and effort it took to get the notes from the two cadets who were first on scene at the incident.
Those efforts involved going to court last spring and asking a judge to compel the release of the information.
Police had refused to hand them over, arguing the cadets are civilian officers and therefore beyond the IIU’s authority to probe. Police have also argued in court the notes could be self-incriminating.
However, in a precedent-setting decision published at the end of August, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Candace Grammond ordered police to hand over the notes.
In her decision, Grammond said the two parties agree that because cadets are not police officers, they cannot be investigated by the IIU nor be forced to participate in an interview with the unit.
However, she said, the IIU should not investigate with less than full disclosure from witness officers, which in her view should include cadets.
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