Eric Osawe, 26, was shot to death during a 2010 police raid on an Etobicoke apartment
Const. David Cavanagh
Eric Osawe, 26, died from a Toronto police officer’s bullet to the back two years ago, the lawyer for the victim’s family says.
Julian Falconer made the surprise revelation Thursday outside court, after the manslaughter charge Const. David Cavanagh had been facing was upgraded to second-degree murder.
“In terms of police accountability, there is very little doubt this is a historic day,” Falconer said. “It’s obviously a very solemn process … It is by no means a day of celebration.”
Osawe, a Nigerian-born father of two, was shot and his younger brother Ebony, 23, arrested on weapons charges on Sept. 29, 2010, during a raid on an apartment on Dunbloor Rd., near Kipling Ave. in Etobicoke. The guns and gangs unit and Emergency Task Force officers had stormed the unit at about 1:30 a.m.
The Special Investigations Unit, the provincial police watchdog, laid the new charge in consultation with the Attorney General’s office.
Neither the SIU spokesperson, Monica Hudon, nor the ministry spokesperson, Brendan Crawley, commented on what led to the new charge.
Cavanagh is believed to be the first Toronto police officer ever charged with murder while on duty, though not the first in the GTA.
In 2000, Const. Randy Martin of York Regional Police was acquitted of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Tony Romagnuolo, after a six-week trial.
That shooting happened on Dec. 28, 1998, when police arrived around 8 p.m. at the Romagnuolos' doorstep in Sunderland to talk to — and possibly arrest — Tony’s eldest son, Lorenzo, then 20, over an alleged threat. Lorenzo was later acquitted of the threatening charge.
But when Lorenzo refused to go with the officers, several fights broke out. Martin, 38, shot Tony four times.
The Toronto murder case has pitted the Crown against a strong police defence lawyer, Peter Brauti.
“Obviously, we find this completely shocking,” Brauti said of the upgraded charge.
Toronto Police Association union president Mike McCormack called the murder charge “over the top,” saying there is no new evidence against the 35-year-old officer. “The Crown has had this case for two years. Nothing has changed,” he told reporters.
“My concern right now is that membership and police officers who work in the city have lost confidence in the process.”
Police officers expect to be treated fairly and impartially by the Crown’s office, he said.
“I do not want to see this have an impact on officers, so that they are hesitating when they are making those split-second decisions or take action,” he said.
“We stand by Dave and we will see this through to the end,” he said. “We are confident he will be exonerated.”
McCormack said the charge will have a long-lasting and severe impact on his members. “It’s tragic for our police officers.”
McCormack also said that once Cavanagh is cleared, those responsible for his being charged and prosecuted for murder “will be held accountable.” Asked to elaborate, he added: “The association will use every legal means to hold these people accountable.”
Falconer, who has viewed the file, said he believes the evidence supports a charge of second-degree murder.
He also had a strong message for the Ministry of the Attorney General: Bring enough resources to bear to prosecute this case fully and fairly.
Historically, he said, that has not always been the case when police are facing serious charges.
Falconer said the family is concerned that, instead of Cavanagh being tried for murder, the trial will turn into a “slag” campaign against Osawe.
“He has a family and they will be watching,” Falconer said. “This is not a trial of Eric Osawe, who died as a result of a bullet in the back.”
Falconer was asked his reaction when told that the officer was given special privileges — allowed to enter and leave court through a garage behind the judge’s entrance, with a small police motorcade.
“It shouldn’t be a circus or a public show,” Falconer said. “On the other hand, we should all be concerned when we see the difference in the treatment of police officers when they are brought up on appearances, versus the treatment of other members of the public … There is a different set of rules.”
At the time of the shooting, a childhood friend said, Osawe was attempting to get his life in order. He was working at a full-time job and training to get a forklift operator’s licence.
Osawe had moved away from the Jane-Finch area to distance himself from a troubled past, which included run-ins with police and jail time.
“He had two children, and he had been an absolutely great father to them. He had been inspired to leave the past behind him,” Antonius Clarke told the Star after the shooting.
Members of Osawe’s family were present in court, and his father, Kings Osawe, sobbed in the hallway of the University Ave. courtroom after Cavanagh was granted bail.
Inside, where Justice Ian Nordheimer approved the bail, were some 20 supporters of the officer.
The Osawe family, including mother Magdalene and sister Esther, met with reporters and gave a brief statement.
“My family is extremely relieved that the charges have been laid and that this will be going to trial, and we really hope that justice will be served,” Esther, 25, said.
“It’s sad, but we’re just very hopeful that things will turn out good for all of us.”
One of the conditions of his release was that Cavanagh go to SIU headquarters on Feb. 29 to be photographed and fingerprinted.
A preliminary inquiry will begin Oct. 1 before the Ontario Court of Justice at College Park.
Oh his brother was charged with:
Ebony Osawe, 23, of Toronto is charged with possession of a firearm, careless storage of a firearm, unauthorized possession of a firearm and careless storage of ammunition and dangerous weapons.