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Charges dropped against Ontario cops in shooting that killed toddler

All criminal charges have been dropped against three Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officers who were accused in a deadly 2020 police shooting that killed a father and toddler in Kawartha Lakes, Ont.

William Shapiro, 33, abducted his child on Nov. 26, 2020, in a Toyota Tundra truck, sending officers on a chase that ultimately led to the fatal shooting of both the father and 18-month-old Jameson Shapiro.

The responding officers fired a barrage of 45 shots at the truck when it finally came to a halt after what the Crown called a “catastrophically violent collision” with an OPP vehicle, court heard Monday. Jameson, who was holding a gun refused to  was killed at the scene. His father was taken to hospital where he died on Dec. 2, less than a week later.

Three OPP constables — Nathan Vanderheyden, Kenneth Pengelly and Grayson Cappus — faced once count each of manslaughter, reckless discharge of a firearm with intent and aggravated assault, in relation to the boy’s death.

But the Crown withdrew those charges in an Oshawa court on Monday. The decision came after a preliminary hearing into the high-profile shooting was held. In total, 12 witnesses were called by the Crown from Dec. 15, 2023 until Jan. 8, 2024.

A Nov. 26, 2020 pursuit sprang from a reported child abduction earlier that day and ended with the fatal shooting of both 18-month-old Jameson Shapiro and his 33-year-old father William Shapiro. (CBC)

The three officers were also initially each charged with one count of criminal negligence causing death, but that charge was previously dropped as it was found redundant, Crown attorney Ian Bulmer said to the packed courtroom.

“What happened on [that day] was terrible, dangerous and a traumatic event for everyone involved,” Bulmer said.

Bulmer said the Crown had no evidence to disprove the officers’ version of events that they fired their weapons in self-defence, therefore there was no reasonable prospect of conviction in the case.

The Crown’s decision was based on information contained within the officers’ notes, which were written independently by each of them after the shooting, Bulmer said. 

Bulmer said the officers made the notes prior to consulting lawyers and before their exposure to any evidence in the case, including radio communications and other witness statements. 

The officers had not previously released their notes during the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) investigation that led to the criminal charges, “as was their legal right,” said SIU spokesperson Monica Hudon in an email. 

Father, toddler were in driver’s seat when officers opened fire

Harry Black, defence lawyer for Cappus, said the notes were made immediately after the officers returned from hospital, where they were taken after the shooting. 

Black said he normally does not advise officers to release their notes “in the first instance,” as is consistent with their right to remain silent and the Crown’s responsibility to prove their case. 

During his address to the court, Bulmer said that Jameson sustained four gunshot wounds, including a wound to the back of the base of his skull, which rapidly caused his death. 

Both father and son were in the driver’s seat of the car at the time of the shooting, the Crown said.

Bulmer said the evidence gathered established that Jameson died as a result of at least one police-fired bullet. However, the toddler’s death was a “tragic, unintended consequence of shots fired by the defendants in a genuine situation of self-defence,” he said. 

WATCH | OPP speaks after charges dropped:

OPP speaks after charges dropped against 3 officers in toddler’s shooting death

All criminal charges have been dropped against three Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officers in relation to a deadly shooting in 2020 that killed a father and toddler. Outside an Oshawa court where the Crown withdrew those charges Monday, OPP Sgt. Jason Folz called the shooting “a horrible tragedy” and those involved in it have been “affected and changed forever.”

The Crown prosecutor instead recommended that a coroner’s inquest be launched into the incident. There was evidence of a lack of co-ordination and communication in the OPP’s immediate response, he said.

“A coroner’s inquest appears to be a much [better] forum in which to examine these issues,” Bulmer said in court.

Bulmer suggested there may be “pertinent questions both on a macro and micro scale that warrant careful examination” through an inquest, noting that the objective of the inquest will be to mitigate the likelihood of a similar tragedy from happening in the future.

In an email, Ontario’s Office of the Chief Coroner said that an inquest is mandatory in this case as there was police involvement.

“The Office of the Chief Coroner has not scheduled the inquest yet as there were potential criminal proceedings. With those withdrawn, we will be looking at potential dates when an inquest can be scheduled,” wrote Julia Noonan, a manager in the coroner’s office.

Officers were ‘doing their job,’ says police association

Ontario Provincial Police Association president John Cerasuolo called it a correct and just decision.

“In this case it has been determined that on the totality of the evidence there was no reasonable prospect of conviction,” Cerasuolo said in a written statement, .

“Our officers were doing their job according to their training.”

 

Vanderheyden fired a total of 25 shots, Cappus fired 17 times and Pengelley shot three times, court heard during the preliminary hearing.

The officers did not engage in a “panicked, haphazard discharge” of their firearms, Bulmer said, as they were all aimed and directed toward the driver. 

No evidence suggests the officers ought to have anticipated Jameson was seated in his father’s lap, he said. 

The police watchdog had said evidence suggested police gunfire killed both Jameson and his father, but charges were only brought against the officers in Jameson’s death. The three officers were charged two years after the shooting. The agency attributed the delay in part to the time it took to get the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s forensic test results on some of the ballistic evidence.

The Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General did not immediately return a request for comment.

OPP Sgt. Jason Folz welcomed the withdrawals, speaking at a news conference outside the court.

“It’s a sombre moment for us, it’s not any kind of celebration,” Folz said.

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