Special Investigations Unit (SIU)

Special Investigations Unit (SIU)

July 25, 2011 16:11 ET

SIU Concludes Death Investigation in Hamilton

MISSISSAUGA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - July 25, 2011) - The Acting Director of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), Joseph Martino, has concluded that there are no reasonable grounds to charge any officer of the Hamilton Police Service (HPS) with a criminal offence in regards to the death of 59-year-old Michael Farrance of Hamilton in February of this year.

On January 29, 2011, three SIU investigators and two SIU forensic investigators were assigned to the investigation. The scene was photographed and measured, and physical evidence was obtained from the front porch area of Mr. Farrance's home. Ten civilian witnesses were identified and interviewed. Six officers were designated as witness officers and one officer was designated as a subject officer. The witness officers and subject officer were interviewed.

The SIU investigation determined that at around 1:15 am on January 29, 2011, several HPS officers responded to reports of an assault in progress in the area of Rosslyn Avenue. The officers located Mr. Farrance lying on the sidewalk. Though none of the officers noted any serious injuries on Mr. Farrance, they were concerned about his well-being given that Mr. Farrance was intoxicated and said that he had been kicked in the face. Mr. Farrance ultimately agreed to be accompanied home by police. The officers did so and then left.

Mr. Farrance did not stay home. Instead, he soon made his way to another tavern. There he became involved in a dispute and ended up on the floor. How he got there is a matter of some uncertainty in the evidence. One witness said he tripped and fell. Another stated that Mr. Farrance was forcibly thrown to the ground by a bar patron, hitting his head on the floor in the process. Police were called and a witness officer arrived at the tavern shortly thereafter. Mr. Farrance was initially uncooperative, but eventually agreed to leave the tavern with the officer. The subject officer joined the witness officer and Mr. Farrance outside the tavern and agreed to follow them to Mr. Farrance's residence in his cruiser.

At about 2:40 a.m., the officers arrived at Mr. Farrance's residence on Balsam Avenue. Mr. Farrance at first refused to leave the cruiser and became argumentative with the officers. Mr. Farrance finally got out of the police car on his own accord. He was unsteady on his feet but was able to walk unassisted up the ramp to the front door of his home. At one point during the trip up the ramp, Mr. Farrance turned backwards in the subject officer's direction and swung his cane at him.

After a few minutes of knocking on the door, Mr. Farrance again turned in the subject officer's direction and moved towards him. When he was within arm's length of the subject officer, the subject officer shoved Mr. Farrance backwards. Mr. Farrance stumbled backwards against the brick wall adjacent to the front door, striking the back of his head against the wall in the process. Mr. Farrance came to rest slumped on the ground on his back, his head resting against the brick wall and propped forward. The two officers considered moving Mr. Farrance into the home but decided otherwise given information they had that Mr. Farrance suffered from a back injury. Paramedics were called. A few minutes later, ambulance and fire services personnel arrived. They determined that Mr. Farrance was in medical distress and started to treat him. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Farrance was taken by ambulance to Hamilton General Hospital. Mr. Farrance never regained consciousness, and died on February 10, 2011. The cause of death was attributed to anoxic ischaemic encephalopathy due to, or as a consequence of, status post-cardiac arrest.

Acting Director Martino said, "I am satisfied on reasonable grounds that the subject officer's conduct did not amount to any criminal offence. On the theory that the subject officer's shove of Mr. Farrance caused or contributed to Mr. Farrance's head injury, which, in combination with Mr. Farrance's level of intoxication and/or compromised neck position following his fall to the ground, resulted in cardiac arrest, I am satisfied that the force was reasonably necessary and therefore justified under the Criminal Code. The evidence suggests that the officer used minimal force to stop Mr. Farrance from advancing towards him in a threatening fashion by shoving him backwards with his left hand. Having observed Mr. Farrance swing his cane in his direction a moment earlier, and then confronted by an advancing Mr. Farrance at the front door, the subject officer was entitled to defend himself and thwart his progress. I am satisfied that he used no more force than was reasonably necessary to do so."

Acting Director Martino further concluded, "On the theory that positional asphyxia was a precipitating cause of the cardiac arrest and that, therefore, the officers ought to have been alert to the dangers of positional asphyxia and adjusted Mr. Farrance's head position on the ground, I am also satisfied that the officers exercised a level of care within the limits prescribed by the criminal law. The officers considered moving Mr. Farrance into the residence, but decided against doing so when they learned of Mr. Farrance's back injury. Their decision was motivated by a desire to avoid doing further harm to Mr. Farrance. It was, in my view, a reasonable one to have made in the circumstances."

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. Under the Police Services Act, the Director of the SIU must:

  • consider whether an officer has committed a criminal offence in connection with the incident under investigation
  • depending on the evidence, lay a criminal charge against the officer if appropriate or close the file without any charges being laid
  • report the results of any investigations to the Attorney General.

Contact Information

  • SIU Communications/Service des communications, UES
    Frank Phillips
    416-622-2342 or/ou 1-800-787-8529