A young Black man was fatally Tasered in his own backyard – now his family is demanding answers
In the quiet darkness of an early morning last November, Clive Mensah stepped outside his Toronto-area home for the last time.
Before long, police cruisers descended on the area. Officers rushed into Mensah’s backyard, taking him down with a stun gun.
About an hour later, the 30-year-old was dead.
What happened between the moment Mensah left his home and the moment he died is unclear.
For the last eight months, Stephen Boakye has been privately reliving the nightmare of his nephew’s final moments.
He and his family have watched with a knowing horror as the stories of Black and Indigenous people and people of colour killed in encounters with police in Canada and the U.S. have made headlines.
“What happened in America, George Floyd… Look at that, it’s the same thing. It’s like Clive’s memory came back and I was experiencing it,” Boakye said.
All the while, his nephew’s story has remained untold — until now.
On a recent sunny afternoon, just steps away from what was Mensah’s home, Boakye broke his silence, along with another of Mensah’s uncles, William Owusu — the only family members Mensah had in Canada.
Since Mensah’s death on Nov. 20, 2019, his uncles say they’ve heard almost nothing from investigators, and are desperate for answers about why their nephew, a young, unarmed Black man with a history of mental illness, was fatally Tasered in his own backyard — and why no one, to date, has been held accountable.
Desperate for answers
Born in Scarborough in 1989, Mensah spent much of his childhood in Ghana. Described by his family as a gentle giant, he took his Christianity seriously and loved basketball as well as music.
At 18, he returned to Canada with his mother. Soon after, she moved back to the West African country. Mensah ended up living alone, but by all accounts he was faring well.
Tragedy would soon follow. In 2015, Mensah’s father died in Ghana. The following year, his mother died, too.
“That had an effect on him,” said Owusu.
It was around that time that Mensah’s family believes his life began to unravel. In September 2015, he was charged in a robbery and pleaded guilty to theft and assault.
A medical report from the same year indicates Mensah’s mental state began deteriorating in mid-2014. He was taken to the hospital several times under the Mental Health Act, often unable to remember his own name and was “frequently observed speaking loudly to himself.”
The psychiatrist’s conclusion: Mensah was suffering from an “unspecified psychotic disorder,” possibly schizophrenia.
But on the surface, there were few signs of trouble. Mensah had found work, through part-time jobs at grocery stores. Most recently, he was driving a forklift at a warehouse.
“We knew nothing about his being ill mentally until I think he was taken to hospital for diagnosis, and then we found out. But when he was taking his medication, he was doing marvellously well,” Owusu said.
Police called for noise complaint
Whether Mensah was suffering a mental health episode on the night of his death is unclear.
Here’s what is known: Peel Regional Police were called to Runningbrook Drive in Mississauga around 3:15 a.m. on Nov. 20 for reports of a “suspicious male causing a disturbance.”
One resident told the news at the time that shortly before police arrived, there was a commotion and yelling coming from a nearby parkette.
About an hour later, another resident called police after seeing “a fellow running up and down the street, screaming and hollering.”
“I thought he was going to break in,” resident Jim Tingley told CBC News at the time.
Mensah’s family believes he was jogging the night of his death, singing to himself as he loved to do. But whether it was Mensah who Tingley saw is unclear.
Had it been that he was a white boy, singing on the road, jogging, would they kill him?- William Owusu
Ontario’s police watchdog said officers found a man in a backyard in the area and “a struggle ensued.”
“Several use-of-force options were used, including the deployment of a conducted energy weapon,” said Special Investigations Unit spokesperson Monica Hudon.
Mensah was taken to hospital by paramedics, where he was pronounced dead shortly after 4 a.m.
Tasered 6 times, paramedics delayed
Boakye was asleep at his home in Etobicoke when he was awoken by a phone call from the hospital, telling him to come quickly.
When he arrived, he says, a nurse and doctor took him to a room where Mensah was attached to tubes.
“It was then that they told me he’s dead,” Boakye said.
Hospital records from that night indicate Mensah was “Tased approximately six times” and was found by paramedics lying on the ground, handcuffed.
The report also notes a “delay” in reaching Mensah, adding “police cruisers blocked roadway to scene,” with paramedics having to park some 15 to 18 metres away.
As Mensah lay dead on the stretcher in front of him, Boakye recalls a nurse telling him, “Your nephew was a big guy.”
“In my mind I was asking myself, ‘Is it because he’s a big guy you have to Tase him just like that?'” Boakye said.
Since that night, just one of the three officers involved in Mensah’s death has spoken with investigators, the SIU has told the news. The other two have so far refused.
Under Ontario’s Police Services Act, “officers cannot be legally compelled to present themselves for an interview with the SIU,” the agency said in a statement through Hudon.
Growing anger over racism in policing
For now, the investigation into Mensah’s death continues, with the SIU awaiting his post-mortem and toxicology reports.
Meanwhile, questions plague his family.
“Had it been that he was a white boy, singing on the road, jogging, would they kill him? Would they Tase him?” asked Owusu, who believes racism directly contributed to his nephew’s death.
Owusu has joined a growing chorus of voices demanding answers for what they say is a disturbing pattern of deaths at the hands of Peel Regional Police involving people of colour.
Asked about the possibility that racism played a role in Mensah’s death or about racism in the force more generally, Peel Police spokesperson Heather Cannon said in a statement the investigation is ongoing, and once complete will undergo an “administrative review.”
“We expect every one of our officers to conduct themselves in a professional and ethical manner at all times,” she said, adding members of the public with complaints about police interactions can submit them to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director.
If no charges are laid against any of the officers involved, Toronto lawyer Emily Lam intends to call on the coroner to consider systemic racism as a factor in Mensah’s death, a move she believes is “very rare.”
“Our client would like to understand the factors that resulted in their nephew Mr. Mensah’s death,” said Lam, who is representing the family.
“I think it’s also important for the public to understand the shortcomings of a system and the factors that may have contributed to the deaths of other civilians… And to hopefully prevent these tragedies from happening again.”
Calls for coroner to consider racism in death
In a statement to CBC News, the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario said a coroner “can only determine the cause and manner of death from a medical standpoint.”
If, however, through interviews the coroner believes racism played a role in a death, that information would be provided to police. Racism has previously been included in the scope of coroners’ inquests, which can produce non-binding recommendations meant to prevent further deaths.
But the coroner’s office conceded “it is impossible to say when, how often, how long” coroners have been reporting on race or racism.
Toronto lawyer Asha James believes that in the current context, an inquest probing prejudice in policing would be particularly valuable, especially given how often police have to deal with people experiencing a mental-health crisis.
“Systemic racism in policing in our society, and how that affects officers’ perceptions and beliefs about individuals that they’re interacting with, is definitely important in understanding things such as the ability to de-escalate situations,” James said. “Hopefully it’s something that we can lead police services to try to start to change.”
Standing in front of the home where his nephew took his last breath, Boakye’s mind travels back to the moment he came to collect Mensah’s belongings.
“I feel very sad that he left us,” he said. “I hope we receive justice for what has happened to my nephew.”
“They have no right whatsoever to take his life,” added Owusu. “You are there to serve and protect. Not to serve and to kill.”