SIU Concludes Investigation into Custody Death Involving Niagara Regional Police



    TORONTO, Aug. 15 /CNW/ - SIU Director James Cornish has concluded that
there are no reasonable grounds to believe that Niagara Regional Police
Service officers committed a criminal offence in connection with the
apprehension and subsequent death in custody of 29-year-old Orlando Rotolo of
Oakville.
    The SIU investigation determined that on July 23, 2007, Mr. Rotolo left
his Oakville home and made his way to Niagara Falls where he checked into a
motel. On July 25 at approximately 5:30 a.m., Mr. Rotolo placed two distress
calls to 9-1-1 from his cell phone indicating that he was "in trouble across
from the Old Casino" before hanging up. He believed that unknown persons were
chasing him. The 9-1-1 operator called him back but he did not answer.
Independent evidence gathered by the SIU showed that, indeed, no one was
chasing him.
    Niagara Regional Police officers located Mr. Rotolo at the intersection
of Bender Street and Ontario Avenue and noticed that he appeared to be very
agitated and sweating profusely. Civilian witnesses also describe Mr. Rotolo
around this time as "hyperventilating, screaming, running around in circles
and making incomprehensible sounds." The officers' attempts at coherent
communication were unsuccessful and they called for backup and paramedics.
    "I am satisfied that the officers had lawful grounds to take Mr. Rotolo
into custody in the circumstances," noted Mr. Cornish. "Mr. Rotolo was
exhibiting symptoms of what appeared to some to be cocaine intoxication,
paranoia, confusion, hyperactivity and intense perspiration, and was acting in
a bizarre manner. It was decided that he should be taken into custody under
the Mental Health Act for his own protection and the protection of others."
    There ensued a violent struggle with a total of six officers attempting
to subdue the 5' 11", 313-pound man. During the event, Mr. Rotolo broke away
and jumped from a parking lot retaining wall, falling approximately six feet
onto the parking lot and striking his head and face on the pavement. There the
struggle continued and the officers were initially unsuccessful in gaining
control over Mr. Rotolo. There was no Taser available at the scene and,
although a request was made for one to be brought to the scene, none arrived
before Mr. Rotolo was brought under control.
    Officers used physical force including their batons on his limbs to
control Mr. Rotolo who, as Mr. Cornish noted, "...was able to shake off the
combined weight of four officers on his back, including one officer who was
6'4" and 245 pounds. This was a clear indication of the incredible strength
and power Mr. Rotolo exhibited during the intense physical struggle with the
police."
    After a prolonged struggle, officers managed to restrain Mr. Rotolo's
hands behind his back using three sets of handcuffs - one on each wrist and a
third to bind them together. Aware of the risks associated with
positional/restraint asphyxia and excited delirium, the officers placed Mr.
Rotolo in a seated position to avoid pressure on his chest and to ease his
laboured breathing. However, although handcuffed, Mr. Rotolo continued to
swing his arms and legs and was spitting blood in the direction of the
officers, prompting them to place him on his side and in a prone position for
periods of time.
    In a further effort to subdue Mr. Rotolo, one officer directed a short
burst of pepper spray at him during this time, but it had no effect. Indeed,
it is unclear as to whether or not that burst of pepper spray contacted Mr.
Rotolo at all. Arriving paramedics were unable to treat Mr. Rotolo because of
his continued resistance, so they administered a sedative to calm him. Shortly
after that, Mr. Rotolo lost vital signs. Despite efforts at resuscitation and
life-saving attempts in the ambulance while enroute to hospital, Mr. Rotolo
was pronounced dead shortly after his arrival.
    The post-mortem found that Mr. Rotolo had potentially lethal levels of an
illegal substance in his blood and died as a result of toxic effects
associated to that drug. There were multiple superficial blunt force injuries
consisting of bruises and scrapes, but none were determined to be factors in
the cause of death.
    "In my view, there are no reasonable grounds to believe that the force
described by the subject officers, consisting of baton, elbow and knee strikes
to Mr. Rotolo's arms, legs and torso, together with the sheer bodily force
they expended while grappling with Mr. Rotolo in the parking lot, was more
than was necessary to control and take him into custody," concluded Mr.
Cornish. "It is clear on the evidence that Mr. Rotolo exhibited phenomenal
strength in resisting the officers' efforts to take him into custody. The mere
fact that it took six officers to finally handcuff Mr. Rotolo's hands behind
his back, and then only by linking three sets of handcuffs together, is
testament to the physical challenge that confronted the officers. I am
satisfied in the circumstances that the force described by the officers was
reasonable."
    With regard to the medical threat posed by positional and restraint
asphyxia, Mr. Cornish said: "The officers were alive to those risks and took
measures to mitigate that danger by placing Mr. Rotolo on his side and in a
seated position while they waited for the ambulance to arrive. Regrettably,
because of his continued resistance on the ground, they also had to keep Mr.
Rotolo in a prone position for periods of time. I can find no fault with the
officers' course of conduct in this regard. It was not unreasonable for them
to do as they did in the face of Mr. Rotolo's continued resistance."
    Six SIU field investigators and three forensic investigators were
assigned to this case. Six subject officers and nine witness officers were
designated and interviewed as well as three members of the Niagara Regional
Emergency Medical Services and 20 civilian witnesses. Investigators also
assessed the Niagara Regional Police communication tape, the 9-1-1-call tape,
occurrence reports, computer-aided dispatch reports and scene photographs and
logs. The completion and review of expert reports in the fields of forensics
and police use of force were important aspects of this investigation and also
bore on the length of the investigation.
    During the course of the SIU investigation, the lead investigator was
available and maintained contact with the family, who was also offered the
support services of the agency's Affected Persons Co-ordinator.

    The SIU is a civilian agency that investigates cases of serious injuries
(including allegations of sexual assault) and deaths involving the police.
Pursuant to section 113 of the Police Services Act, the Director of the SIU is
mandated to consider whether a criminal offence has been committed by an
officer(s) in connection with the incident under investigation and, where
warranted by the evidence, to cause a criminal charge or charges to be laid
against the officer(s). The Director reports the results of investigations to
the Attorney General.





For further information:

For further information: John Yoannou, SIU Communications/Service des
communications, UES, Telephone/No de telephone: (416) 622-2342 or/ou
1-800-787-8529

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