The Ontario police watchdog is investigating the most significant case of officer-involved death since 2010 after paramedics were forced to strap a dying man to a stretcher in a “pain compliance” type restraint tactic known as “cuffs-on-ceiling” at Toronto’s St Joseph’s hospital.
Toronto public health vice-chair Sheila Gunn Reid, who was chair of the Toronto Medical Paramedic Services’ standards council at the time of the incident in 2016, told the Guardian she is “deeply concerned” the use of the technique on the doctor in charge of caring for John Beddington, 72, raises broader questions about the way paramedics are expected to intervene.
“[It’s] ill-advised and frankly wrong-headed,” she said, citing a 2014 report published by the Canadian College of Emergency Physicians (CCEP), that concluded CVCs require “a different level of training, monitoring and training”.
In a letter to Toronto police chief Mark Saunders, Gunn Reid says the June 2016 death should be investigated with greater care as it occurred amid an intense summer heatwave and marks a significant loss of life.
She cites a publicly released Toronto police investigation report into Beddington’s death that noted “the neto was had a number of plastic handcuffs on his back, they remained on his chest, his arms and his wrists; the chair was likely uncomfortable. The CVC had also been used”.
“I am concerned about a number of the facts that [Toronto police] have chosen to publish to an extent that they overblame paramedics for errors in judgment,” she said, “those statements appear to take a serious turn towards a blame game and a police/paramedic conversation.
“My view is that the paramedics were, as they were supposed to be, generally a model of compassion, empathy and understanding.”
Toronto public health said in a statement: “It is not our policy to comment on open investigations by the police oversight agency.”
Beddington, a retired professor and former health board chair, was stopped by police on 19 June 2016 on the city’s Danforth Avenue for disobeying a roadway speed limit, Toronto police said in a statement.
Following a 17-hour emergency roadside wellness check with Beddington, paramedics found a minor head injury and contacted police. Two officers were dispatched to the scene and a disturbance call was later placed on Beddington’s officer-worn radio, police said.
Police officers restrained Beddington on a chair that did not have a base, police said. After staff realised there was a live wire, they used additional cuffs and checked for a pulse after being unable to communicate with Beddington for several minutes. The medical officer intervened and Beddington was taken to St Joseph’s hospital, where he died on 23 June 2016.
A spokesperson for the police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), would not discuss details of the case and said only that the SIU “intends to hold an inquest into the death of John Beddington”.
Both Toronto police and Toronto public health said investigators looked into the case and did not find evidence of poor training or poor judgment at the hospital.
A spokesperson for Toronto police said the force “takes the findings of the SIU’s investigation into the death of John Beddington very seriously”.
“At the end of the investigation, the Toronto police service did not find evidence that would lead to charges against any officer or medical personnel in relation to the death of John Beddington,” a spokesperson said.
“The Toronto police service will review the SIU’s investigation and assess its outcomes to ensure training has been addressed or considered in the future.”