Three Ontario Provincial Police officers have been criminally charged with manslaughter after the fatal shootings of a toddler and his father in Kawartha Lakes in late 2020.
OPP Constables Nathan Vanderheyden, Kenneth Pengelly and Grayson Cappus each face one count of manslaughter and criminal negligence causing death in relation to the shooting of the boy, a Special Investigations Unit press release said Wednesday. No further details of the case have been released as it now moves to the courts, the Ontario police watchdog said.
The officers must appear at a Lindsay, Ont. courthouse in October.
The SIU has previously said three officers fired on the truck driven by the boy’s father on a rural road in Kawartha Lakes on the morning of Nov. 26, 2020 while attempting to stop the truck after reports of a father abducting his son.
Eighteen-month old Jameson Shapiro was killed by a single gunshot wound. The SIU has previously said he was shot by police.
His father, William Shapiro, 33, who is identified in a lawsuit related to the incident, was also shot by police, the SIU has said. There have been no charges laid related to his death.
The charges come after a nearly two-year investigation by the SIU, a high-profile probe that saw the watchdog take the exceedingly rare move of tapping the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to perform ballistic testing.
OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique said in a statement Wednesday that the service extends their “deepest sympathy” to the child’s family while saying they wouldn’t be commenting further on the case.
“Our mission is to protect our citizens, uphold the law and preserve public safety. When a tragedy such as this occurs, it affects the families, the community and our whole service. It is devastating when an innocent life is lost during an incident.”
The service declined to put the Star in touch with the charged officers.
Rob Stinson, president of the Ontario Provincial Police Association representing officers, said they are “fully supporting” the members.
“Every single day police officers make split-second decisions that most will never have to make and wouldn’t want to make,” the statement said. “This case is now before the courts. Everyone is entitled to due process. Our members have cooperated with the investigation in accordance with the law.”
The fatal police shooting of a baby — believed to be the first in the SIU’s 30-year history — happened shortly after police were called about a father abducting his son from the Municipality of Trent Lakes, near Bobcaygeon.
OPP officers tracked a pickup truck believed to be involved in the abduction nearly 50 kilometres away, in Kawartha Lakes. As police attempted to stop the truck, it instead slammed into another vehicle and an OPP officer who was on the road, attempting to lay down a spike belt, according to the SIU.
Following the crash, three OPP officers opened fire on the truck, the SIU said. The boy’s father, who was driving the truck, was shot and later airlifted to hospital, where he died a week after the shooting.
Jameson was found inside the truck, dead from a gunshot wound.
The SIU later confirmed Jameson was killed by a bullet fired by an OPP officer, ending weeks of uncertainty over who had shot the child. The SIU previously said a handgun was found inside the truck, leaving open the possibility Jameson was shot before police arrived.
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But in the nearly two years since the fatal shooting, the SIU has issued few public updates about the case, prompting criticism that the police watchdog was taking too long on an investigation with significant public interest.
The SIU, meanwhile, defended its investigation as thorough, with a spokesperson saying the complex case has required “dozens of interviews and complex forensic examinations.”
The watchdog said last year that 19 witness officers and 14 civilian witnesses had been interviewed during the investigation.
As of Aug. 18, 2022, none of the three officers charged had agreed to be interviewed by the SIU. Police officers facing potential criminal charges have the Charter right not to incriminate themselves, meaning they are not required to speak to the SIU — though past directors of the SIU have acknowledged that it’s controversial to not be able to compel subject officers to provide information.
SIU spokesperson Kristy Denette told the Star in mid-August that the SIU had requested statements from the officers, but “none of the officers have to date stepped forward to provide a statement, as is their legal right.”
Daniel Brown, a criminal defence lawyer not involved with the case who agreed to discuss possible legal scenarios that have not been tested in court, said it’s not uncommon for multiple people to be charged for the same crime even, as it was in this case, where a single bullet killed the child.
Two possible scenarios for manslaughter and criminal negligence causing death charges involving multiple people could be that the SIU investigators believe all three officers fired recklessly but are not sure who fired the fatal shot or that they believe the other officers encouraged the shooter to open fire, making them equally responsible, Brown said.
As for the father, Brown said it may be the SIU determined it was a justifiable homicide because the man posed a serious threat to other road users or officers.
The shooting has also spawned a lawsuit filed in court in July by bystander Ronald Hill, who in a statement of claim names the estate of William Shapiro and the OPP. The claim alleges Shapiro was driving along the same stretch of road when OPP officers deployed tire spikes.
He claimed Shapiro “lost control” of his vehicle, hitting several OPP cars and “violently” colliding with his immobile Ford.
Then, Hill claimed, “gunshots were exchanged” between Shapiro and the officers before the driver was killed. Neither the OPP or SIU has confirmed any exchange of gunfire.
Hill is claiming damages for pain and suffering. None of the allegations have been tested in court and no statements of defence have been filed. A media spokesperson for the OPP would not comment on the suit or Shapiro’s identity with the investigation ongoing. The SIU would also not confirm Shapiro’s identity.
It is very rare for criminal charges to be laid against on-duty police officers.
A public SIU database tracks the status of cases from 2017.
Between 2017 and 2021, only 3.8 to 6.5 per cent of cases reported in each year resulted in charges, not including investigations the SIU terminated and did not make a finding. So far, of the cases reported to the SIU in 2022, 82 have been concluded and only two have resulted in charges.
Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing for the Star. Reach her by email at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis
Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based crime reporter for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags
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