Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders has vowed there will be a “thorough” internal investigation after officers were captured on video stomping on and Tasering a man who didn’t appear to be resisting arrest.
“This investigation is going to be a thorough investigation,” Saunders said on Wednesday. “The officers have to be accountable for their actions.”
The incident began when police received a call about a man spitting at an employee at the Seaton House homeless shelter on George Street in downtown Toronto.
An officer responded to the call and approached the suspect. That’s when witnesses say the man began punching her in the face.
The officer who was punched was treated in hospital Tuesday for face and shoulder injuries, and police say she went back for further treatment on Wednesday.
With the help of passersby, police managed to tackle the man, who has since been identified as Andrew Henry, near Dundas and Church streets.
Henry, 43, of no fixed address, appeared in court via video on Wednesday. He’s facing a total of nine charges including uttering death threats, assault, assault a peace officer, mischief and damage to property.
CityNews has learned that court staff requested Henry appear by video from his jail cell due to safety concerns.
Henry is known to police and has previously been convicted on sex assault, child porn, assault and theft charges.
Bystander Karsa Dehghani told CityNews he helped police detain the suspect after he allegedly attacked an officer.
“His behaviour was aggressive,” he explained. “He immediately assumed a fighting stance and he started throwing punches … He hit (the officer) a couple of times.”
“It seemed pretty bad so I jumped in and tackled him … I was grabbing both his arms for about a minute or so until the police backup arrived.”
When that backup arrived, the suspect was placed in the back of a cruiser. But the situation would only escalate.
According to police spokesman Mark Pugash, Henry kicked out the window of the cruiser and then bit an officer.
Pugash believes the subsequent force used by officers, who Tasered Henry twice and stomped on his legs several times, was justified.
“We put him in the back of a police car, he kicked out the window of the police car,” Pugash said. “We got him out of the police car, he was on the ground, he still had an officer’s hand in his mouth, and so we Tasered him a second time to deal with that situation.
“He wouldn’t disengage and that’s why they Tasered him a second time.”
Pugash did admit, however, that police appeared to be intimidating witness Waseem Khan, who captured part of the dramatic arrest on his cellphone.
Khan says he was shocked to see police using such aggression when the suspect seemed to be immobile.
“The police officer starts stomping on him,” he said. “I’m thinking … that this guy is going to die. He was laid out. He was not moving whatsoever. I don’t even know if this guy was conscious.”
But it’s what happened next in the video that Pugash says crossed the line.
The officer holding the Taser hollers at Khan to “move back” and instructs another officer to “Get that guy out of my face.”
“I am not obstructing your arrest,” Khan replies.
Another officer approaches Khan and tells him to move back, to which Khan replies, “I’m a witness. I’m a witness.”
Two of the officers then say if he is a witness, they will have to seize his phone as evidence.
“He’s going to spit in your face, you’re going to get AIDS. Stop recording or I’m going to seize your phone as evidence,” one of the officers says.
Pugash said Khan was within his rights to film the takedown from a reasonable distance.
“The man taking the video was clearly some considerable distance away,” Pugash said. “He was not interfering in any way, and the officers have no legal authority to seize the phone and they shouldn’t have said that was a possibility. It isn’t a possibility.”
The situation is under investigation by the Toronto Police Professional Standards division, but the Special Investigations Unit will not be probing the arrest because no serious injuries were reported.
Coun. Shelley Carroll, who sits on the Toronto Police Services Board, said she was dismayed by the video.
“I have a lot of questions and I’m going to need answers,” she said. “It’s a troubling video … but I do want to assure people that this means these officers are going to go through a long, long process.”
Mayor John Tory’s office released the following statement in response to the incident:
“The mayor has seen the video and finds it disconcerting. It’s important to keep in mind that we do not know the full context of what happened before or after the video footage. The mayor believes it is appropriate that the Toronto police will be reviewing the matter internally.”
Black Lives Matter Toronto co-founder Sandy Hudson said the video was further evidence of the need for change within Toronto police.
“This is outrageous,” she said upon viewing the video. “This man is not moving. He’s being kicked. This is exactly the type of stuff that we’ve been talking about. This city needs to do something about it. The province needs to do something about it.
“We need systemic change. We need policy change and we need a complete culture shift.”
Meanwhile, police from 51 Division have apologized on Twitter for their officer’s false comment about getting AIDS from saliva. They said they will bring in an HIV/AIDS expert for training.