Friday, March 5, 2010

Bearing Witness to Police Brutality

At about 1:20 am Tuesday morning, I awoke to my wife standing at the window, the red flicker of an emergency vehicle's flashing lights routinely hitting the glass.  Eight and a half months ago, we were woken up by fire, and within hours, homeless.  Flashing lights tend to focus our attention.

Outside, there were numerous - perhaps four or five - squad cars.  In the parking lot of the industrial facility across the street (we live in a new build condo on the commercial end of a quiet residential street), there was a car "parked" erratically.  The police officers were handcuffing two men.  One on the ground.  One against the hood of the squad car.

The gentleman on the ground knew the game was up.  He quietly and co-operatively walked with his hands cuffed behind his back to a squad car and got in.  His cohort, faced down on the hood of the car, was nothing of the sort.  He was screaming at the cops, and fighting the application of the cuffs.  His upper body jerked up and down, trying to get enough torque free himself from what he obviously felt was an improper arrest.  His feet rose and dropped in sync.  He swore endlessly.

He was the complete embodiment of resisting arrest.

As many officers attempted to subdue him, and get him handcuffed (with eventual success), this gentleman kept screaming to know what the charge was.  It seemed likely - considering the positioning of the car, and his obvious altered state - that the charge was impaired driving.  I could not hear the response by the police officer, but it must have been something along those lines, for this gentleman's response was, "but I wasn't driving."

I have no idea if this gentleman was driving.  I would assume the officers saw which person exited via which side.  Further, this gentleman continued to kick and scream for the enunciation of a charge, as if no answer had been given prior, and as if he had not just acknowledged such a response.  At this point, the officers were tough with him, and maybe a little rough, but I could not wholly fault them for their behaviour.  This was about to change.

In the parking lot across the street stands an electrical box.  Made of metal, it probably measures six and a half feet high, and about four feet wide and deep.  It has a cement base and numerous warning signs demanding safety.  The gentleman would not stop screaming, "what's the charge?"  It is my assumption that although officers must answer this question, there is no requirement to answer it dozens of times from a man who has already acknowledged the response.

It is also my assumption that when a man, drunk or not, continues to ask this question, screaming but of no threat to the officers, the proper response is not to slam the man by his throat against a six foot high metal electrical box.  Nonetheless, that is what I viewed.

At that point, I went to find my camera.  Though I am glad that there are police officers who will protect the public from potential dangers - such as a drunk driver - I cannot, and will not, suffer officers who assault defenseless individuals.

I came back upstairs, wondering if the officers (one of whom regularly shone a flashlight at our row of condos) had noticed the light go on in my living room; wondering if they would come to my door at 1:30 in the morning to find out what I might be doing.  Thankfully, no such thing happened.

Upon return to the bedroom, my wife informed me that they had doubled the man over and sat on him.  When I returned to my perch on the side of the bed, I could see them fighting with the man as they attempted to get him into a squad car.  He was still resisting.

Eventually, one of the officers went to the other door and reach in, pulling.  His body made repeated jerking motions.  His arms deep in the back seat; his head coming back and forth as a piston.  It became clear they were pulling and pushing him into the squad car.

Eventually, they were successful - though the gentleman was not giving up.  Banging sound came from within the cruiser as it rocked back and forth.  He must have been kicking it with all his force, considering the effects.

The gaggle of officers stood around and chatted.  More cars had come, as well as some SUVs.  Even the paramedics had arrived, though they soon left.  Eventually, one officer appeared to take this man's statement.

We sat in our bedroom, unable to go back to sleep, recording video footage that would catch nothing significant (we have only a digital camera with some video function).  We knew that someone had to provide witness for the events.

After the statement was taken, and police vehicles came and went, we sat.  We thought they would soon leave, or that a wagon would come to pick up the arrestee.  Neither would happen.

Eventually, the officers opened the door to the squad car and removed the gentleman they'd just fought so hard to intern in their Crown Victoria.  They brought the gentleman, still resisting, but with less energy, to another car.  They walked around the car and opened the door.  They were on our side of the street, just off the side walk; we could see clearly what was happening.

Once again, they attempted to put this man in the back seat of a squad car.  They got him to a sitting position on the back seat, but that was as far as this man was willing to go.  He would not pull his legs from the ground, and he struggled as best he could, arms still restrained behind him.  There were three or four officers fighting to get him in.  One kicked at his legs, trying to get them in.  Then they backed off, and began to close the door on this man's shins.  They hit his legs with the door.  Then, as that was not enough, multiple officers began pushing on the door, the gentleman's legs caught between the door and the frame of the car, feet still hovering inches from the ground.  They repeated this maneuver, but to no avail.  At no time did they try to pull him in from the other side - the tactic that had worked previously.  They attempted to use pain to make this man submit.  None of it worked, and they backed off.

They kept him pinned to the back seat of the car, legs still hanging out.  It was at this point we saw an officer begin to move over him.  It was at this point we saw a red dot, much like that of a laser pointer, dance across his torso.  The officer moved over him more, blocking his torso, the red dot no longer visible.

And then we heard a noise.

It wasn't loud, but it was loud enough.  It was indescribable.  There was no bang, no attack, just a quick, sharp... something.  I wondered if it was the sound of electrocution.

I wondered if I had just witnessed a man being tasered.

After this sound, the gentleman folded up into the backseat of the cruiser.  He was as loud as ever, but there was no sign of physical resistance.

Coincidentally, it was shortly after this that the paramedics returned.  They spoke briefly with the police and left.  Other squad cars left.  Eventually the car housing the perpetrator-turned-victim left.  Our street was quiet again.  It all took about forty minutes.


Days have passed.  It's Friday night as I write this.  So far, I have done nothing about the incident.  Well, not exactly nothing.  I have been scouring the local news to try to get some shreds of information, but nothing has appeared.  The Ottawa Citizen has a feature called The Blotter which details crimes and police activity.  There is nothing.  Ottawa Police Services has a crime mapping tool, which purports to show all the "calls" that are made that require police intervention.  There is nothing.

This post is the opening, but it is not the end for me.  Though the police may react appropriately to most situations, there are times when they do not.  It is our responsibility as citizens to refrain from ignoring such activities.  The police have great power.  They have the ability, intentionally or not, to foster fear in law abiding members of the populace.

I do not know what good I will be able to do.  I do not know what steps may have already been taken to address this situation, but I will begin to do my duty.

A man was abused.  He was abused by police.  He may be a criminal; he may be a bad person, but the actions of the police were inappropriate.  The actions were brutality.

A man I have never met, and would likely never befriend was slammed against a metal edifice by his throat.  He was kicked.  He was assaulted with a car door.  He may have been electrocuted.  I will take up his cause.  I will fight back for him.

1 comment:

  1. Great write up and too bad you don't have some good footage of the beating. Would you be interested in sharing this story (reposting it) to my website

    If you would like to contact me via email please do. As I wouldn't mind talking to you via the phone, as I might be able to assist you in getting some answers. Email: