A $16 million lawsuit has been filed in the death of Stephanie Warriner, a 43-year-old mother of five who never regained consciousness 16 days after physical interaction with Toronto General Hospital Security guards who confronted her because she had her face mask pulled down under her chin, reportedly because she was having trouble breathing.
The lawsuit was filed in September 2022 by Warriner’s sister Denise, but was only recently served against five security guards and the University Health Network. The claim alleges the guards used “excessive” and “unreasonable” force in an “aggressive manner, contrary to their training,” and “acted with reckless disregard for the life of Stephanie.”
The legal action also alleges the hospital failed to tell the family of Warriner’s death for 11 days, leaving them to believe she was a missing person.
Warriner, who was in a medically fragile state with preexisting chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, had gone to the hospital for chronic breathing issues in May 2020. She was admitted to the COVID ward of the hospital due to a positive test two weeks prior. She weighed 125 pounds at the time of her death on May 27, 2020, and her sister said she left her hospital room to go to the food court.
The lawsuit states the security guards “knew or ought to have known” that Warriner had mental health issues before pushing her against a wall, and then allegedly pushing her to the ground and restraining her. Her sister said Warriner had bipolar disorder and challenges with substance abuse.
Kyle Bryson, the guard who admitted he intentionally moved the security camera away from the scene, shift supervisor Andrew Li, and James Rouse, the guard who handcuffed Warriner when she was face down on the ground, have been named as defendants.
The legal action, filed at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, also names security guards Amanda Rojas-Silva, 42, and Shane Hutley, 35—who had charges of manslaughter and “criminal negligence by unlawful confinement/restraint causing death” dropped against them on Nov. 22, 2022. At a preliminary hearing, Ontario Superior Court Justice Sean Dunphy quashed the charges, stating there was a lack of “admissible evidence” to proceed to a trial, a decision that was reported by CTV News on Jan. 12.
CTV obtained judicial approval to publish the video of the altercation, which shows Warriner being confronted by guards Rojas-Silva and Hutley at Toronto General Hospital on May 11, 2020.
A coroner’s report states Warriner had been “sitting calmly” in the hospital lobby when a group of guards approached. A security camera was “purposely turned away” for over two minutes while the guards restrained her, stated the report.
“One of the security guards aggressively and violently grabs my sister and crushes her face first into a concrete wall,” alleged Denise Warriner. Stephanie Warriner was restrained on the ground by multiple guards.
“She was effectively dead right there,” said Denise Warriner. “While doctors later resuscitated her, she never regained consciousness and with the doctor saying there was no brain activity, 16 days later she was taken off life support.”
Court documents indicate Warriner “suffered a cardiorespiratory arrest that caused her brain to be starved of oxygen.”
In the video, moments after the camera was turned away from the scene, multiple security guards are seen walking in a group, one pulling a wheelchair with Warriner slumped in it, handcuffed, feet dragging on the floor. She appears unconscious.
Court documents state Rojas-Silva noticed Warriner “was non-responsive and appeared to have no pulse. A Code Blue was called.”
The coroner’s report said she died of “restraint asphyxia.”
“I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced gut-wrenching horror. … You can’t help but replay those traumatic images, over and over, in your mind. It haunts me,” said Denise Warriner, referring to the first time she saw the video of the last moments of her sister’s life.
She blames “COVID paranoia and phobia” for her sister’s death. “There was indifference toward her. She was wrangled like cattle,” she said. “She was pushed against the wall, held down, and handcuffed. It was heartless, cruel, and unnecessary.”
“This was not a jail but a hospital,” she added.
Denise Warriner said Jan. 18 that the legal action is meant to hold the hospital and employees responsible for “extreme and outrageous conduct.”
She said the trauma her family has endured as a result of the incident is indescribable and is an “ongoing grief” that “never ends.”
Two staff members involved in the situation faced disciplinary action, and two are no longer working at the hospital.
The lawyer for the Warriner family was unable to respond by press time, but told reporters no statements of defence have been filed; however, all defendants have served notices they do intend to defend against the lawsuit.
Marnie Cathcart is a reporter based in Edmonton.