In bid to end standoff, police drilled hole in wall to pump in tear gas


It took pepper spray, batons, a bean-bag shotgun and tear gas pumped through a hole drilled in the wall to extricate a homeless drug addict from the washroom at a Tim Hortons. All that chaos resulted in an eight-month jail sentence and one year of probation for the man, who kept police at bay for five hours on the afternoon of Sept. 7.

Last week, Matthew Hamm, 22, pleaded guilty to mischief by interfering with the lawful use of the fast-food restaurant and resisting and obstructing police.

“This is a very sad case,” Hamm’s defence lawyer, Richard Schwartz, told the court. “Mr. Hamm has had a very difficult and problematic early life. At the time of the offence, he was homeless, living on the streets, injecting drugs and having a very difficult time.”

Judge David Pendleton accepted a joint sentencing submission from Schwartz and Crown prosecutor Laura Wheeler. During his probation, Hamm is not allowed to go to Tim Hortons and must take counselling — which could include forensic assessment or full-time attendance at a drug and alcohol treatment program — as directed by his probation officer.

The incident began when employees at the Tim Hortons on Gorge Road East asked Hamm to leave the store. Hamm refused and staff phoned police. When police arrived about 45 minutes later, Hamm had locked himself in the bathroom, Wheeler told the court.

The prosecutor gave the following account of what happened.

Police officers knocked on the door a number of times. They told Hamm they needed to speak with him. When Hamm abruptly opened the door, officers noted that he was high on drugs. He was sweating. His eyes were dilated. He was agitated and yelling.

The officers knew Hamm had a problem with methamphetamine. They told Hamm to relax and asked if he needed help. But the situation escalated.

Hamm had an object in his left hand that police believed was a knife. They told Hamm to drop it and he refused. The officers pulled out pepper spray and batons, but Hamm still refused to drop the object. He was acting erratically and not following directions.

The officers pepper-sprayed Hamm, but this only made his behaviour worse. When the officers tried to get Hamm out of the bathroom, he was able to close the door. They could hear him flushing the toilet rapidly, yelling, pounding on the door. He was pacing back and forth and smashing items inside the bathroom.

Because the restaurant was busy, police called for backup and called out the Emergency Response Team.

Eventually, the ERT deployed tear gas through a hole drilled in the bathroom wall. They also fired seven rounds from a bean-bag shotgun. Police tackled Hamm as he tried to run away.

“It was a long, drawn out process, but they were able to get him under control eventually,” said Wheeler.

Hamm was taken to hospital because police believed he was in the grip of a drug psychosis, she said.

Hamm was very ill as an infant and young child and his mother had difficulty looking after him, said Schwartz. Members of his family struggled with mental health issues. Hamm lived in 14 different foster homes.

“He had just injected crystal meth and was in a completely addled state of mind when he locked himself in that washroom. He didn’t have any good judgment in cooperating with the authorities who were asking him to come out,” said Schwartz. “He became more concerned about how he would be dealt with when he came out.”

Pendleton agreed a jail sentence was appropriate. He credited Hamm with 45 days for the 30 days he spent in pretrial custody. This means he must serve another 195 days in jail.

© Copyright Times Colonist

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