‘Life was on the line’: No charges against officer in fatal shooting in alley: SIU

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A Sarnia man had been choking a London police officer for nearly a minute when another officer fatally shot him in a Richmond Row alley last fall, Ontario’s police watchdog said in a report released Monday.

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Following a nine-month investigation, the director of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) says the officer who shot Justin Bourassa, 29, acted appropriately and won’t face criminal charges in the deadly encounter on Oct. 28, 2021, when police responded to a reported break-in involving three men with a ladder near St. John and Mill streets around 3:45 a.m.

Two officers in a marked SUV saw Bourassa entering an alley off Richmond Street – roughly two blocks away from the reported break-in – and wrongfully believed he was involved, the SIU report said.

Justin Bourassa, 29, of Sarnia was fatally shot by a London police officer on Oct. 28, 2021, in an alley off of Richmond Row.
Justin Bourassa, 29, of Sarnia was fatally shot by a London police officer on Oct. 28, 2021, in an alley off of Richmond Row.

The two officers were arresting Bourassa, who tried to run away but was brought to the ground, where he put one of the officers in a “rear-naked chokehold” for between 45 and 60 seconds, the report said.

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Bourassa was tightening his grip when the other officer fired a close-range shot at him, entering his lower right neck and exiting through his right upper back, the report said.

Police performed chest compressions on an unconscious Bourassa until paramedics arrived and took him to the hospital, where he died at 4:24 a.m., the SIU said.

SIU director Joseph Martino ruled that the subject officer’s decision to fire his gun was reasonable because a fellow officer’s “life was on the line.”

“His breathing had been restricted by the complainant’s chokehold for a protracted period and he was about to pass out when the (subject officer) fired his weapon,” Martino wrote in his report to Ontario’s attorney general.

“Weighed one against the other, the use of lethal force by the officer was not disproportionate to the chokehold and the imminent risk it had created of death or grievous bodily harm . . . ”

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It was unclear whether the subject officer tried to use his baton or pull Bourassa off before firing his weapon, Martino said, noting the subject officer did not give an interview to SIU investigators or turn over a copy of his notes, as is his legal right.

“Indeed, it is hard to believe that the (subject officer) would have stood idly by for a period of time before discharging his weapon as his partner . . . was being choked on the ground.”

But Martino raised questions about whether police had the legal grounds to search Bourassa, who matched a general description of the break-in suspects, noting the decision to handcuff him led to the struggle.

“As there was no affirmative indication of any weapons having been brought to bear by the suspects in the break and enter, the use of handcuffs might have been an overreach on the part of the officers,” Martino wrote.

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“That said, if the complainant was entitled to resist what may have been an unlawful detention, he was not entitled to use potentially deadly force.”

A post-mortem determined Bourassa didn’t have any drugs or alcohol in his system when he died, the report said.

London police will now conduct an internal review into the incident and report the findings to the police board, a police spokesperson said.

“We are unable to speak to this matter while the review is underway,” Const. Sandasha Bough said in an emailed statement.

The SIU didn’t release the identity of the officer, but the Free Press had previously reported that the officer also shot a knife-wielding man during a confrontation outside a Dufferin Avenue apartment three months earlier.

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The SIU later cleared the officer, a member of the department’s front line patrol unit, whose name The Free Press isn’t publishing because he hasn’t been charged, of any wrongdoing in the July 27, 2021, shooting that seriously injured the man.

Bourassa was a graduate of Lambton College and worked as a massage therapist. He was a longtime Sarnia Tennis Club member, competitive player and instructor.

About 200 people, including family members, attended a memorial service for Bourassa on Nov. 2 at the club’s courts on Christina Street North. The vice-principal of a Sarnia high school who was a member of the club said Bourassa had an “impeccable reputation” and was an inspiration to the Sarnia-area tennis community.

At the time of his death, Bourassa was facing five charges – four counts of assaulting a police officer, one count of obstructing a police officer – stemming from two separate incidents in February and August in Sarnia.

dcarruthers@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/DaleatLFPress

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