Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit has cleared all police officers of wrongdoing in the death of 29-year-old Regis Korchinski-Paquet, it announced Wednesday.
The agency, which investigates incidents involving police in which death or serious injury occurs, launched an investigation after the Toronto woman fell to her death from her 24th-floor apartment balcony on May 27 while police were in her home.
That day, her mother, Claudia Clayton-Beals, posted a video online, stating that she believed police officers pushed Korchinski-Paquet off the balcony.
“The police killed my daughter, came into my apartment and shoved her off the balcony,” Clayton-Beals said the day her daughter died.
The agency, known as the SIU, has closed its investigation into her death and cleared the officers. The Fifth Estate asked the SIU for comment but has not heard back.
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, SIU director Joseph Martino said he concluded there were no reasonable grounds to believe any of the five officers who were in or around the apartment had committed a criminal offence.
“There were allegations in the wake of Ms. Korchinski-Paquet’s death that she was pushed off the balcony by the police. The evidence establishes that this did not occur,” Martino said in his statement.
“Instead, the evidence indicates that no one other than Ms. Korchinski-Paquet was on the balcony when she scaled over the railing and attempted to sidestep along the outer ledge over to her neighbour’s balcony, lost her balance and fell.”
In a video statement, Martino said the SIU has notified the family and the police officers.
However, at the same time as Martino released his report, her family members were inside the SIU’s headquarters in Mississauga for a briefing. Korchinski-Paquet’s brother, father and sister, as well as their three lawyers, attended.
Korchinski-Paquet’s death triggered large anti-police protests across the country, with thousands taking to the streets demanding justice for her.
Her death came just two days after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, with that timing connecting her death with the worldwide movement against police brutality.
“It was unbelievable when I saw the huge crowds and everyone walking peacefully together in the midst of COVID, in the midst of George Floyd,” the family’s lawyer, Knia Singh, told The Fifth Estate before the investigation’s conclusion.
“It simply means that her death cannot go unanswered.”
Martino said investigators interviewed all six officers who were in or around the Korchinski apartment at the time that she died, as well as 15 civilian witnesses, including her mother and brother.
Korchinski-Paquet was on the phone with her father moments before she fell, Martino said.
Investigators also reviewed 911 calls, security camera video, police records and two post-mortem reports.
“I accept that systemic racism exists and continues to challenge the relationship between racialized communities and the institutions of our justice system, just as it does in other sectors of society,” Martino said. “However, the task before me was a narrow one.”
He said that his job was to identify any criminal wrongdoing, which he did not find, rather than to look at systemic racism in the police force. He did note that Korchinski-Paquet is a member of the Black and Indigenous communities, and that her family said she told police that her father was white in an attempt to “court favour.”
Family’s lawyers investigate
The family hired a team of lawyers, including former SIU director Howard Morton, who conducted their own investigation, including ordering a second autopsy.
At a media conference earlier this summer, Morton said that based on the evidence he had seen to that point, he supported criminal charges for the officers involved.
“Our investigation leads us to believe that there is a sound basis for criminal liability against the officers who burst into the apartment,” Morton said on July 15.
Shortly after Korchinski-Paquet’s death, Toronto Police Services Chief Mark Saunders, who has since retired, took the unusual step of holding a news conference before the SIU had completed its investigation.
Saunders held the conference two days after she died, and slammed stories circulating online of her being pushed to her death as “lies” spread by “opportunists.”
He emphasized that police are legally forbidden from speaking about cases that were the subject of probes by the Special Investigations Unit, yet the chief proceeded to speak about the case anyway.
Saunders told the news conference that three 911 calls for an assault in the apartment had been made that evening, with two of the calls saying a knife was involved.
He went on to say that weapons-related calls take the highest priority and that he hadn’t sent a mobile crisis intervention team because “there’s no way I would put a nurse in the middle of a knife fight.”
The Toronto Sun newspaper ran an article with additional details of Korchinski-Paquet’s final moments that were leaked to them from police sources.
The family had become outraged and delayed their interviews with the SIU over their concerns that a police campaign was underway to compromise the integrity of its investigation.
Family says woman yelled, ‘Mom, help’
The family’s lead counsel, Singh, said that when Toronto officers arrived on the building’s 24th floor, they were met by Regis Korchinski-Paquet, her brother and her mother.
The Korchinski family told The Fifth Estate that her mother asked the police officers to take her daughter to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health for treatment.
Shortly after, Korchinski-Paquet entered her apartment to use the washroom. She was followed by several police officers.
Minutes later, her family claims they heard her yell, “Mom, help. Mom, help. Mom, help,” three times.
The SIU director said he was unable to determine “whether these words were, in fact, uttered.” He said the officers’ microphones did not pick that up, nor did the officers say they heard such words.
“There is indication, however, that Ms. Korchinski-Paquet, while on the phone with her father, did ask him to help her,” Martino said in his statement.
When family members tried to enter the apartment, they said an officer prevented them from entering.
They learned shortly after that Korchinski-Paquet had fallen from the balcony to her death.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.