SIU investigates after family alleges Toronto police brutally beat man who later died

Toronto police show up in riot gear, with shields, battering ram

CBC News · Posted: Nov 19, 2015 5:30 AM ET | Last Updated: March 23, 2017

By Laura Fraser

Family alleges Toronto police brutally beat man who later died

Toronto police show up in riot gear, with shields, battering ram. SIU begins investigation 2:14

Photos of Rodrigo Almonacid’s last hours show a man lying in hospital, his eyes purpled, his body a patchwork of bruises.

The 43-year-old man died Nov. 7, a day after Toronto police were called to his west-end apartment by his wife, Susana Chavarria.

“The police told my sister-in-law that [my] brother was locked inside the washroom, but we don’t know anything else,” Almonacid’s sister, Yasmin, said. “We don’t know what happened inside.”

His wife stayed outside of the apartment after police arrived, something that’s captured several times in security footage of the hallway and lobby.

The pair allege that Almonacid emerged from his home at 10 Dora Ave. brutally beaten and stunned by a taser by police.

Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit has also been called in, something that happens whenever someone is seriously injured or killed in situations involving police.

Unclear why police were called

It’s unclear exactly why Chavarria called 911.

Neither she nor her lawyer would provide any details about why she made the call, although she did say that she and her husband had a small fight at some point that night.

Almonacid would not have been on drugs or had any issues with alcohol, the family’s lawyer Davin Charney told CBC News.

“We don’t believe that there was any history of mental health issues,” he said. “We think the issue was the excessive use of force by the Toronto police.”

Almonacid’s sister does not believe her brother would have presented a threat to police, adding that he did not have any weapons at home.

“He never used a gun, he never had a gun,” she said. “He wasn’t a dangerous person, not at all, no.”

The family has released photos of Almonacid in hospital and surveillance video from their apartment building on Nov. 6.

The surveillance video shows only what happens in the building’s lobby, stairs, hallway and elevator, beginning at 12:04 a.m.

That’s when two police officers are seen arriving in the lobby, followed by several paramedics at 12:28 a.m.

None of the officers are moving quickly, nor have their weapons raised.

That changes, however, half an hour later when seven members of the Emergency Task Force arrive.

The seven men are wearing body armour and helmets. They are carrying riot shields, a hammer and a battering ram. One appears to be carrying a gun, Charney said.

The next clip shows paramedics rolling out a man on a stretcher at 1:32 a.m., more than half an hour after the Emergency Task Force arrived.

Almonacid can be seen speaking, but then goes “into medical distress,” the lawyer says, the man’s head thrashing from side to side.

Three minutes later, the heavily-armoured police unit can be seen walking down the stairs with their gear.

When asked by CBC News whether Almonacid talked to his family about what happened in the apartment, the family said that he couldn’t speak to them in hospital.

The SIU has confirmed that Almonacid was stunned by a Taser twice on Nov. 6, but they have not released any other information.

The family’s lawyer would not say whether Almonacid was known to police — and Toronto police cannot comment on what happened while the investigation is underway.

The family is waiting for an autopsy to be released to learn Almonacid’s cause of death, although Charney said that a doctor told them the man suffered internal bleeding.

Almonacid’s injuries appear far more severe than one would expect from the force needed to subdue one man, Charney said.

“He has black eyes, it looks like he was punched in the face, his ear is injured, the back of his head was injured, his elbows, his thigh, his shoulder,” the lawyer said. “It looks not like a few strikes in order to subdue someone, but many, many strikes repeatedly and the Taser.”

‘By the numbers’ 

The case marks the second time this week Toronto police officers have been accused of brutality or excessive force, and comes amid the trial of Const. James Forcillo, who faces second-degree murder and attempted murder changes in the shooting death of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim.

On Wednesday, a Woodbridge, Ont. man this week sued the force for $5 million after he was beaten during a mistaken arrest on Nov. 1.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders said the officers involved in the Almonacid case did everything “by the numbers,” though he noted he could not discuss the case in detail because of the SIU’s involvement.

“Did our officers do everything properly? Absolutely. I’ve got no concerns with that,” Saunders said.

He also refuted the suggestion the force has a problem with brutality.

“The short answer is: absolutely not,” he said.

Family wants answers

The SIU confirmed Toronto police notified them about the incident on Nov. 6 and again on Nov. 7 after Almonacid died.

But the family has concerns that the SIU did not examine the scene until Nov. 10, at which point they say it would have been disturbed.

SIU would not confirm when they returned to the apartment to collect evidence.

Chavarria provided CBC News with a video that she says she took of the bathroom about 10 minutes after police left.

The bathroom door can be seen propped up in the bathtub and a cupboard door has also been torn off. Toiletries cover the floor.

The family says they are releasing these images because they want answers.

“My mom, my sister-in-law, my nephews they want justice,” Yasmin Almonacid said. “They want to know what happened inside that apartment. They want to know what happened inside that washroom.”

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