Victoria police have been cleared of wrongdoing in a case where officers went to the apartment of a man reported to be suicidal but couldn’t decide whether to break down the door, and eventually found him dead inside.
Police had been called at 1:24 a.m. Feb. 6, 2022, by the man’s mother, who said he had a razor blade and was threatening to kill himself. He was in an assisted-living apartment due to mental-health issues.
The man had not been co-operative with police on previous occasions.
A written decision from the Independent Investigations Office, a civilian agency that looks into police-involved incidents resulting in death or serious harm, says when officers arrived at the apartment, they were undecided about whether to go right in.
The two officers who responded called police dispatch between 1:39 and 1:41 a.m. to say there was no response at the door.
One of the officers then called his sergeant to see if he should kick the door in, but was told all that was known was that the man’s mother thought he was in the suite and to “keep going with voice commands and we will go from there.”
The sergeant said he was coming to the scene.
At 1:46 a.m., one of the officers said he could hear movement inside the suite but there was no response to attempts at communication.
The sergeant arrived at 1:50 a.m.
Officers told IIO investigators that they had knocked repeatedly at the man’s door. A next-door neighbour confirmed that no response was heard from inside.
Police were concerned that the man could be “armed and barricaded” and did not want to cause a high-risk confrontation with a forced entry.
The decision was made at 1:55 a.m. to kick the door down. The sergeant had to go to his vehicle to retrieve a battering ram because the door was hard to breach.
The man was found in the bathroom. An ambulance was called but it had already been determined the man was dead.
The IIO found that the officers’ concerns before going inside were reasonable, and there was a risk of “immediate resort to self-harm” if they entered suddenly.
The IIO decision says the assisted-living facility’s failure to have either a lock box or a staff member on site with a pass key was a “significant factor” in the man’s death.
Given the severity of the man’s injuries, the outcome would not likely have been different if police had gotten inside a few minutes earlier, the report said.
“In other words, not only can it not be said that any delay between police arrival and the entry was in any way blameworthy, it also cannot be said that it was causally connected to [the man’s] death.”