Ontario's police watchdog cleared an officer of wrongdoing in the shooting death of a man west of Toronto on Wednesday, saying there were no reasonable grounds to lay charges in the incident that took place last year.
The Special Investigations Unit noted, however, that there were legitimate questions about the Peel Regional Police officer's conduct on the evening that Jamal Francique was shot in the head in Mississauga, Ont.
Joseph Martino, the director of the Special Investigations Unit, said in a report that the officer told investigators he feared for his life when Francique drove at him during a botched arrest.
"Confronted by a vehicle that the subject officer had reason to believe was intentionally being driven in his direction, the officer's decision to disable its operating mind by shooting in the direction of the driver was not devoid of logic," Martino wrote.
There were aspects of the officer's conduct, however, that raised questions, Martino said.
"One may question, for example, the wisdom of the (subject officer) placing himself in the vicinity of a vehicle whose driver was evidently attempting to flee from police," Martino wrote.
"There are those who would also take issue with shooting at a moving vehicle when the prospect of stopping the vehicle in its tracks is low and the risk of contributing to a dangerous situation on the roadway is real. On the other hand, one must be mindful of the fluid and dynamic nature of the incident."
Francique's father criticized the SIU's decision and the conduct of the police.
"The SIU unit and the police have left many fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends not trusting nor believing them." Derek Francique said in a statement.
"We do not want to leave our lives in your hands because instead of helping us and giving us a reason to feel safe you leave the families in incomplete shambles."
Police were investigating Jamal Francique for allegedly dealing drugs and possessing a firearm, the SIU said.
Officers were unable to confirm if Francique had a gun or was dealing drugs, but decided to arrest him for allegedly breaching bail conditions, the SIU said.
On Jan. 7, 2020, several plainclothes officers and their unmarked cars gathered near Francique's home in Mississauga, Ont., where they waited for him to get into his car.
Around 5:45 p.m., the SIU said, Francique got into an Acura TSX and began to drive, but one officer was late blocking him in the driveway.
A second unmarked police car came behind Francique and tried to hem him in, the SIU said, while other officers got out of the cars and rushed to the area, guns pointed at the young man.
Francique accelerated toward a grassy area, the SIU said, and struck one car while one officer jumped out of the way.
At that point another officer on foot fired his gun four times as Francique drove towards him, the SIU said.
The Acura came to a halt 30 metres away after it hit a home.
The SIU said that after Francique had been shot officers did not approach the car for fears of a gun — which was later found in his satchel — and waited until tactical officers arrived more than two hours later at 8:05 p.m.
The tactical team then approached with a shield and smashed the rear windows.
"Mr. Francique was seated in the driver’s seat in obvious and acute medical distress," the SIU wrote. "He had suffered a gunshot wound to the left side of the head."
Francique was taken to St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto and died three days later.
Knia Singh, a lawyer representing Francique's family, suggested the SIU's report had several deficiencies.
He said it did not explain why police waited until Francique was in his car to arrest him when their reports said officers observed the man walking from his apartment through the parking lot.
"Why would they choose night time and a manner and a plan that surrounds the person in plainclothes, blocks them in, and creates a high-risk takedown," said Singh. "It defies logic."
Singh also said the case of Francique, who was Black, demonstrated that the SIU had failed to serve the province's diverse communities.
"The public perception from affected communities, lawyers, and human rights organizations, is that the SIU is heavily biased in favour of police," he said.
- with files from John Chidley-Hill.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2021.
Liam Casey, The Canadian Press