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Officers’ use of force in Penticton arrest that injured a male driver deemed necessary: Watchdog

The Independent Investigations Office of BC (IIO) has deemed officers in Penticton that injured a male during an arrest at a traffic stop in August 2018 acted accordingly to the situation.

The investigation into the incident arose after the arrested male sent a letter to the IIO in May 2019 alleging that he was “seriously injured in the course of an unlawful arrest by RCMP officers” in Penticton in August 17, 2018, when he was pulled over by an RCMP officer.

“He said that when he got out of his vehicle and went to the police car to ask for the reason for the stop, he was taken by the arm and marched back to his vehicle. When he resisted, he said he was told he was under arrest for assaulting a peace officer,” states the report, which was released on Dec. 10.

“He said that when he bent to retrieve his wallet, which had been knocked form his hand, the officer ‘slammed’ him to the ground. Finally, he said another officer had used knee strikes against him while he was handcuffed. (The man) said his injuries included broken and displaced ribs, a collapsed lung, abrasions and soreness.”

The IIO reported that evidence collected by civilian and officer witness accounts, audio and dash cam footage, and a number of other sources tells a different story of how the situation unfolded.

The report states the incident started when the male paused at the drive-thru of a Tim Hortons in the city to allow the officer out into traffic, but when he did not immediately take the opportunity the man drove on and, “made some sort of hand gestures to towards (the officer) as he did so (the man described having gestured with both hands to say ‘what if?’).”

The officer decided to pull the driver over shortly after to determine if he was in distress due to the ambiguous signal, and dash cam footage from the officer’s car shows that the officer exited his vehicle and approached the driver’s window where he had a short conversation with him before getting back into his police cruiser with the driver’s licence.

“(The officer) told IIO investigator that (the man) had been yelling angrily at him throughout their interaction. A few seconds later, (the driver) exited his vehicle and walks back towards the police vehicle,” states the report.

“He can be seen to be a large, strongly-built individual, and his body language is very assertive, if not aggressive. Despite being told to go back to his car, (the driver) continues to approach, asking loudly why he had been stopped. Audio from the police dashcam includes the officer saying ‘I’m stopping you because it looked like you were in distress. Get back in your vehicle.’”

The report goes on to state the driver did not return to his vehicle and the officer exited the police cruiser to talk with him, though this takes place out of view of the police dashcam.

The audio recording captures the driver saying “Get your hands off me!” before the driver can be seen being “pushed down towards the front of the police vehicle with one of the officer’s hands on the driver’s right arm, and the other on the back of the driver’s neck.”

At this point, it appears in the footage that the driver loses his balance and both he and the officer fall to the ground, with the officer landing either on top of or beside the driver.

When the officer stood back up, his chest-mounted radio handset can be seen dangling, and as the driver stood up, the officer can be seen attempting to control him by holding onto his shirt and right arm.

“The driver is actively resisting (at this point), saying ‘Get your hands off me!’ and ‘No, I’m not under arrest!’ At this point, while still engaged face to face with the driver, the officer places his radio handset in its chest holder and an alert tone can be heard over the police radio,” states the report.

The report says the alert signalled that the officer needed assistance, but it appeared to be activated accidentally as the officer can be heard subsequently apologizing for it on the radio dispatch channel.

The officer recounted to IIO that at this point of the incident, he was trying to de-escalate the situation, “which is consistent with his demeanour on the video.”

The driver then bends and retrieves his wallet, and the report highlights that no interference from the officer can be seen and the driver was not slammed to the ground by the officer.

A call then came from the dispatch channel requesting assistance at the arresting officer’s location, while the arresting officer tries to hold the driver against the back of his vehicle “evidently trying to effect an arrest.”

The driver and officer then appear to stumble sideways, with the officer taking the driver down onto the sidewalk with the responding officer arriving a few seconds later.

READ MORE: No negligence in RCMP actions in B.C. teen’s overdose death: Watchdog

Civilians tried to aide the arresting officer in subduing the driver when the responding officer joined in, with dashcam footage showing the second officer “trying to control the driver’s arms before delivering a knee strike to the driver’s chest or abdomen, following which the driver can be heard yelling in pain.”

Once the officers bring the driver to his feet and secure his wrist in handcuffs, there is no futher resistance or use of force, and from there the driver is transported to cells and “subsequently taken to hospital where he was diagnosed with fractures of the fourth and fifth ribs on his left side.”

The report concludes that it was lawful and reasonable for the officer to “exercise the broad powers provided to peace officers under the Motor Vehicle Act to detain a motorist briefly for purposes of ensuring safety, compliance with regulations, etc.”

It goes on to say it was also lawful and reasonable for the officer to request the driver remain in his vehicle for both of their safety, and this refusal led to a physical confrontation when both men fell to the ground.

The report states that the second time the pair fell, it appears to have been an intentional take down “but there is no evidence to support the driver’s allegation that he was ‘slammed’ to the ground while trying to pick up his wallet.”

It also adds that because the responding officer had no way of knowing the request for assistance alert, which is considered the most urgent call for backup, was issued accidentally and the single knee strike he delivered to the driver was reasonable and not excessive.

READ MORE: Independent Investigations Office seeks witnesses following arrest in Penticton

“The unfortunate reality of this situation is that the driver turned what started as a routine traffic stop into a physical confrontation. His decision to leave his car, and then continually refuse to follow directions from a police officer , resulted in force having to be used against him,” states the report.

“In that regard, the force used by each officer was only what was necessary, which ended as soon as the driver’s resistance ended.”

The report does not state whether the driver was charged as a result of this incident.

To report a typo, email: editor@pentictonwesternnews.com.

Jordyn Thomson | Reporter
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