Stratford officer found not negligent in sudden death of baby

A Stratford Police cruiser. (Photo by Stratford Police Service)

Ontario’s police watchdog has deemed that a Stratford police officer is not responsible in the tragic death of an 18-month-old baby last year.

During the early morning hours of February 16, 2021, the Stratford Police Service (SPS) was called to a home on Downie Street after emergency crews responded to a report of a young child without vital signs. The young child was taken to hospital and pronounced deceased.

Police reviewed their records and learned that on January 12, 2022, several weeks before the baby’s passing, officers were made aware of concerns raised regarding the treatment and possible neglect of the child. The concerns detailed that the child reportedly looked “really malnourished”, and was being ignored when crying and force fed to go to sleep. The parents were also reported to be drug users.

“[An officer] attempted to identify the parents via various checks of police records and social media sites, without success,” the report by the SIU read. “She prepared a report of the information she had been provided and disseminated it to other officers, none of whom came forward with information about who the parents might be. The matter was not reported to the child welfare authorities.”

Following the results of the autopsy, which were released in February 2022, the pathologist was unable to ascertain a cause of death for the child. He did note that the child’s growth had been stunted through his short life and found that he was acutely malnourished and dehydrated at the time of death.

An expert on child development was brought in to review the case and the question posed to the expert was whether the outcome would have been different had there been action taken by police officers.

In the baby’s post-mortem report, it was noted that they saw a family doctor three weeks before they died. The SIU noted that the baby was referred to a paediatrician due to the clear lack of growth and weight gain observed.

“The expert felt that based on the baby’s measurements at the time of the visit, a referral to CAS (Children’s Aid Society) could and maybe should have been considered,” the report from the SIU read. “Not knowing what information was provided to the SPS, the expert could not comment on whether or not there were grounds for the SPS to have apprehended the baby. Had there not been a visit to the family doctor, then inaction by SPS could have been a contributing factor, but it was difficult for him to say if it would have prevented the death.”

SIU Director Joseph Martino noted in his analysis that while the officer who responded to the initial report of neglect concerning the child fell short, it did not transgress the limits of care prescribed by the criminal law.

“The SIU received information that at least three people had already called child welfare authorities to report similar concerns about the mother neglecting her children and using illicit substances, and it is unclear whether further investigation from the [subject officer] would have revealed any new information allowing for intervention,” Martino wrote. “Moreover, the expert the SIU spoke with opined that intervention would have taken the form of child welfare authorities bringing the [baby] to a medical professional. In fact, the [baby] had a medical appointment with his family doctor on January 27, 2021 – three weeks prior to his death.”

As a result, Martino has determined that there are no reasonable grounds to proceed with charges against the officer.

The full analysis of the investigation can be found online.