The family of a Black woman who died in Toronto Wednesday after falling from a balcony is alleging police are responsible for her death.
In a series of videos posted to Instagram Wednesday, a man who identified himself as the cousin of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, 29, said she was killed by police after being thrown from a 24th-floor balcony of a high-rise at 100 High Park Avenue. The videos showed what appeared to be a body covered in a sheet behind police tape on the apartment complex grounds.
“The police threw my cousin off the building,” he said.
The situation is being investigated by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), an agency that investigates police incidents involving a death, serious injury, or sex assault allegations.
In a brief statement, the SIU said Toronto police were called to the apartment building for a “domestic incident” at around 5:15 p.m. Wednesday.
“While officers were inside an apartment unit on the 24th floor, they observed a woman on the balcony. A short time later, the woman fell from the balcony to the ground below. She was pronounced deceased at the scene.”
In a press conference Thursday, Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders said the force is cooperating with the SIU but legally can’t comment publicly on the case.
“I’ll urge the public to please wait for the facts to come out,” he said.
Saunders said he is concerned about the spread of “misinformation,” in the absence of a detailed statement from police.
He said police were called to the scene for an assault.
“It sounded rather frantic. There was a need for police presence to be there,” he said.
The SIU said it is aware of the allegations against the police “made by certain family members of the deceased and will be looking to speak to anyone with information about these allegations.”
The SIU said witnesses can call 1-800-787-8529 and that a post-mortem will be conducted Thursday afternoon.
In a since-deleted video, Korchinski-Paquet’s cousin said Korchinski-Paquet’s mother called police to de-escalate an argument at the apartment.
He said police went in the unit with Korchinski-Paquet but wouldn’t let other family members inside.
He said police then came back out and told family members that Korchinski-Paquet had climbed into the next unit. He said police then went into the next apartment unit over and came out after a few minutes to tell the family that Korchinski-Paquet was “on the ground.”
No family members appeared to be inside the unit when Korchinski-Paquet fell, and it’s unclear if anyone witnessed how the fall took place from the ground or another unit. In the videos, her cousin and mother did not say how they came to the conclusion that police pushed her.
Korchinski-Paquet’s cousin said police told local news outlet CP24, which reported on the death, not to attend the scene because it was a suicide. He accused police of pushing a “false narrative.”
He said Korchinski-Paquet was not suicidal.
Speaking to Global News, Korchinski-Paquet’s uncle Sam Renda said his niece has epileptic seizures, which is why police may have been called.
He said his niece had been pleading “‘mom please come in, please come in’” when she was in the unit with police, “and then all of a sudden things just went silent.”
Renda said “it just makes no sense to me how she would jump. She would never do that. She would never do that.”
He said there were around eight responding officers inside the unit with Korchinski-Paquet, and that they left after she fell to the ground and were replaced by new officers.
"Everybody wants answers. if it was an accident, so be it, but at the end of the day it has to be investigated,” he said.
In another video, Korchinski-Paquet’s mother Claudette Payton, said “police killed my daughter, came in my apartment and shoved her off the balcony and told CP24 not to come here that it’s a suicide, but the police killed her.”
A heart-shaped memorial framed by baby blue streamers was set up outside the building on Thursday. Friends and neighbours laid lilacs, daisies and lilies while some passing by just stopped to take it in.
Candida Martinez came in from outside of the city to scatter flowers and pay tribute to her friend. “I just feel so sad about what happened and I’m really going to miss her,” Martinez said. “I literally spoke to her a few days ago and I never thought this would happen.”
Martinez met Korchinski-Paquet while they worked together at a grocery store, and they remained close before she moved from King City to Toronto. She also spoke about Korchinski-Paquet’s struggle with epilepsy. “Sometimes [the seizures would] be so bad she would fall and bang her head somewhere,” said Martinez. “She’d have a bruise on her because she’d just fall down.”
Asked about a protest planned in light of Korchinski-Paquet’s death, Saunders said “it would be harmful and sad if we have unrest based on absolute misinformation.”
“Historically when you walk things back when the truth comes out it’s far different that what the perceived realities are today.”
A 2018 report from the Ontario Human Rights Commission found that Black people were more likely to be killed or injured by Toronto police than white people.
The report revealed that between 2013 and 2017, a Black person was nearly 20 times more likely than a white person to be involved in a fatal shooting by Toronto police. Black people made up 60 percent of deadly encounters with Toronto police and 70 percent of fatal shootings, despite accounting for less than 9 percent of Toronto’s population.
Korchinski-Paquet’s death comes at a time when protests are erupting in the U.S. over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man. A white Minneapolis police officer pinned Floyd’s neck down with his knee as Floyd repeatedly said "I can't breathe." Floyd became unresponsive and died. Earlier this month, two Georgia men were charged for stalking Ahmaud Arbery and shooting him dead in February. Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, had been jogging at the time.
The killers weren’t charged until video of the shooting went viral.