In the moments before Clive Mensah was Tasered by Peel Regional Police in the backyard of his own home, the 30-year-old mentally ill Black man had obeyed orders to lie face down on the ground and was not holding a weapon or other object at the time.
Minutes later, he would be dead — shocked a total of six times by officers.
The details are part of a post-mortem report that sheds new light on just what happened in the early hours of Nov. 20, 2019, after police were called to Mensah’s neighbourhood in Mississauga, Ont., west of Toronto, following multiple reports of a disturbance.
The report was prepared by the Ontario Forensic Pathology Service for the provincial coroner’s office and shared exclusively with CBC News by lawyers for Mensah’s family.
“He lay down without resisting, and they came and advanced on him, started Tasing him,” Mensah’s uncle William Owusu said in an interview with CBC News.
“Meanwhile, he didn’t even punch anyone … nothing whatsoever to threaten them. Why must they kill him?”
In the weeks ahead of the fatal encounter, Mensah had planned to visit Ghana to spend time with family, Owusu said. His father and mother had both died there in recent years, and he’d hoped to visit their graves.
“They were all happy to hear that he was able to come for a visit,” Owusu said. “But it didn’t happen that way.”
Officer claims Mensah still ‘combative’ after being Tasered
Instead, his life was cut short after a minutes-long interaction with police that his family says never should have happened.
Drawing on an interview with the Peel Regional Police officer who arrived first the night Mensah died, the post-mortem report indicates Mensah was walking on a sidewalk at approximately 3:24 a.m. ET “flailing his arms and making unintelligible noises.”
The officer reported following Mensah, “trying to verbally engage him through the windows of his police vehicle.”
Why did they even follow him into his backyard? What assumptions were they making about him to lead to that?– Vinidhra Vaitheeswaran
Around 3:26 a.m., Mensah entered the backyard of his home. Two other officers had now arrived, and all three made their way to the backyard, where Mensah was on the deck.
The report indicates the officers ordered Mensah to lie down and put his hands behind his back. He lay down but reportedly continued to “flail his arms.”
At that point, one of the other officers fired a Taser at Mensah, who then got up and “advanced” toward the officer, who backed away off the deck.
A second Taser was fired at Mensah, who by this point, was also off the deck. Mensah is then described as going “rigid” and falling “face down” onto the ground.
Still, the officer reported that Mensah remained “aggressive and combative” after being Tasered.
Mensah ‘never spoke’ throughout interaction
All three officers then moved to restrain Mensah, holding his arms and legs. When that was “ineffective,” the interviewed officer deployed his own Taser and proceeded to spray pepper spray toward the back of Mensah’s head.
The officer noted Mensah’s behaviour remained unchanged but that police were now able to handcuff him behind his back.
“He was then described by the interviewed subject officer to suddenly stop moving and become quiet,” the report says.
Exactly how much time passed between Mensah being handcuffed and becoming unresponsive isn’t clear.
The entire interaction, from the time of locating Mensah on his deck to handcuffing him, spanned just one to two minutes, the report says. No other means of force — such as a baton — appear to have been deployed.
Throughout the interaction, the report notes, Mensah “never spoke.”
In the moments that followed, another officer arrived to find Mensah face down and handcuffed with foam coming from his mouth, without a pulse. The officer began life-saving measures until paramedics arrived at 3:39 a.m., at which point a fifth officer arrived and removed Mensah’s handcuffs.
He was pronounced dead in hospital at 4:19 a.m.
The post-mortem report noted that although Mensah was hit with six electric shocks from the officers’ Tasers, none of them delivered enough current to kill him.
An earlier hospital report from the night he died had noted a “delay” in paramedics reaching Mensah because police cruisers were blocking the roadway to the scene, forcing paramedics to park 15 to 18 metres away.
‘A serious escalation’
In a coroner’s report released to the family but not made public, Mensah’s manner of death is listed as “undetermined.”
Mensah is described as a “restrained, prone, agitated, morbidly obese male with blunt injuries” who experienced “sudden death … in the setting of a struggle, conducted electrical weapon, and [pepper] spray deployment.”
In his family’s lawyers’ view: If not for the interaction with police, Mensah would have been alive today.
“What we had here was a young, Black man who was in the street near his home, keeping to himself,” Vinidhra Vaitheeswaran, a lawyer for the family, told CBC News.
“Why did they even follow him into his backyard? What assumptions were they making about him to lead to that? Why did they tell him to lay face down on the ground?… To go from that to Tasering him several times to restraining him in the span of two minutes reveals that this was a serious escalation with really no explanation.”
Although Mensah had a history of mental illness, whether he was suffering a mental health episode on the night of his death is unclear.
To date, no one has been charged in connection with his death. Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit says its investigation remains ongoing and in a December update, said it was pursuing “additional inquiries” based on the autopsy results. Mensah’s lawyers say they have not been told what those might be.
Just one of the three officers involved the interaction with Mensah has spoken to investigators. The other two have refused, as they are legally allowed to do.
Some ‘not physically capable’ of putting hands behind back
Exactly why police used the level of force they did on the night Mensah died is unclear, says retired police officer Michael Burgess, a former instructor at Ontario Police College.
“In some of these cases, these people are just not physically capable of putting their hands behind their backs to be handcuffed,” he said, referring to people with larger physical builds. Mensah was 6’3″ and 334 lbs, the post-mortem report notes.
“The more they struggle, the more that some officers have a tendency to put weight on their back,” he said, which can make it harder to breathe.
“And there comes a tipping point where the person on the ground is no longer struggling just because of the situation. They’re actually fighting for their life … So, who knows if that’s the case here?”
Peel police have told CBC News they cannot comment on an ongoing SIU investigation.
Asked whether Mensah’s race may have played a role in how officers treated Mensah, the force previously said it expects “every one of our officers to conduct themselves in a professional and ethical manner at all times.”
Meanwhile, with his family marking another Christmas without him, they cling to hope that the officers involved in Mensah’s death will be held responsible.
“When he died, he was still face down and handcuffed. That’s so wicked,” Owusu said. “How would he breathe?”
“He was alone, no family member, no friend, nobody … It’s heartbreaking.”
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.