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Victoria police cleared of wrongdoing after man found dead during wellness check

Investigators from B.C.'s Independent Investigations Office are seen in this file photo from the IIO. Investigators from B.C.'s Independent Investigations Office are seen in this file photo from the IIO.
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B.C.'s police watchdog has cleared the Victoria Police Department of wrongdoing after officers found a man dead inside his home during a wellness check last year.

On Feb. 9, 2022, Victoria police went to a residential building in the 1900-block of Fort Street after a man's mother called 911 with concerns about her son's wellbeing.

When officers arrived at the man's suite, they tried talking to him through his front door but did not receive an answer, according to the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) of B.C.

A witness, who was described as the man's next-door neighbour, told the IIO that they heard the officers try to communicate with the man through his door.

The neighbour also told police that building staff members had a key to the man's unit, but that no staff members were present because it was the weekend.

Police were able to call a staff member, who said that officers could pick up a key from them in a different part of the city.

One officer stayed at the home while the other officer went to get the key.

In the meantime, another higher ranking officer, a VicPD sergeant, arrived at the scene.

Shortly after the sergeant arrived, they said they could hear a "cry for help" or some sort of moan from inside the unit and decided to break down the door.

Once officers entered the unit, they found the man had died by self-inflicted injuries.

Paramedics arrived soon after and confirmed the man's death, according to the IIO.

IIO DECISION

The IIO is notified whenever a police-involved incident results in serious harm or death.

In this instance, the IIO says it needed to check if police had acted negligently or if they disregarded anyone's safety during their response.

The police watchdog says police adequately weighed the risks of waiting at the man's door versus breaking it down, noting that officers considered breaking into the home earlier but there were concerns that the action could cause a sudden and unpredictable response from the man.

"It is significant that the officers were left with only two options: to wait outside, trying to get a response from [the man] through the locked door, or to kick the door open," said the IIO in its decision released Friday.

After reviewing six civilian witness statements, three police officer statements, security video from the building and police dispatch and 911 audio records, the IIO concluded that the responding officers had acted appropriately and that they had very little chance to intervene in the situation.

"The evidence gathered in this case indicates that when [the man] closed himself in his apartment he had made a firm decision, one that the responding officers were effectively powerless to head off," said the IIO.

The IIO adds that given the extent of the man's injuries, it's unlikely that the outcome would have been different even if police were able to access the unit immediately. 

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