An Edmonton girl fought for her life, fearing she was being abducted to be trafficked — but it turns out her would-be captors were Edmonton Police Service officers who mistook her for the suspect in a nearby domestic violence call.
Haylie Nahamko-White had just gotten off work on Monday, Nov. 13. She was walking towards Londonderry Mall in north Edmonton, and about to cross 137th Avenue at 68th Street to meet her boyfriend.
It was 10:30 p.m., pitch dark outside. She was on the phone with her partner, who was parked across the street.
“I had an unmarked SUV pull up to me and they said they were police. I didn’t see any logos or nothing. They didn’t turn on their lights at all,” Nahamko-White said Thursday.
The 17-year-old said a man in the vehicle told her if she fled, he would deploy his taser on her. She panicked and ran.
“I didn’t think they were real cops. I thought they were lying,” the teenager said through tears.
“I just thought I was getting kidnapped and I started running.”
One of the officers tackled her on the street, where her face scraped against the pavement and left her with road rash still visible days later on her lips and chin.
The 17-year-old thought she was fighting for her life.
“He put me in handcuffs and I remember kicking with my feet. That’s when they put my feet down, too. I just kept howling and screaming and that’s when they told me, ‘Be calm.'”
Nahamko-White said she thrashed and screamed, repeatedly saying “Please don’t traffic me! I’m a good person!” as she tried to escape. Meanwhile, she said her boyfriend rushed to her aid.
“He parked in the middle of the road over there and he ran. He ran and was screaming, ‘Get off of her.'”
In a statement, the Edmonton Police Service told Global News the officers were in an unmarked vehicle, responding to a domestic disturbance nearby in which a woman was refusing to leave a house.
“While enroute to the call, two officers noticed a female matching the description of the woman in the disturbance in the area of 137 Avenue and 67 Street. Uniformed officers approached the female in their unmarked police vehicle and advised her they wished to speak with her. The female began to step away, and when one of the officers exited the vehicle and asked her not to run, she fled into the open roadway,” a statement from EPS communications said.
“At this time, officers believed she was the female suspect and one officer pursued her on foot. The other officer positioned the police vehicle to prevent other traffic from striking them. The female, who was resisting, was walked back to the curb where an officer took her into custody to prevent her from fleeing,'” the statement continued.
In the back of the police SUV, Hailey said she found out the men were actually police officers and she wasn’t their suspect after all. Her boyfriend confirmed her identity and she was released.
A police supervisor was called to the scene and talked to her.
“He said, ‘I’m so sorry Haylie, we were looking for some very bad people that matched your description,'” Nahamko-White said.
EPS said the officers were in uniform. Hailey said after the ordeal, the officer who chased her turned his toque around, and she could see the EPS logo. But in the dark, and in her panic, Nahamko-White said she didn’t see it at first.
Charlene Nahamko, Haylie’s mom, arrived on scene while Haylie was still in the back of the police SUV.
“She was totally distraught, she wouldn’t even open her eyes to look at me. I was like, ‘Mom’s here, you’re OK,'” Nahamko said.
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She had choice words for the officers when she arrived, fearing the worst.
“I wasn’t nice — I totally own that,” Nahamko.
The supervisor offered to call an ambulance, but Nahamko said she’d handle it. EPS confirmed that medical aid was offered and declined. Nahamko said she took her daughter to the Manning Community Health Centre and called 911, wanting an officer to come take a statement.
“It’s unforgivable. There’s no excuse for that. None whatsoever,” Nahamko said.
She said her daughter is five-feet-two-inches tall and 120 pounds, while the officer who chased her was much larger. “I couldn’t comprehend it.”
The teen was released into her mom’s custody. Nahamko-White said she can forgive what happened, but forgetting what police did to her is more difficult.
“I have such high respect for them, but now it’s totally deteriorated. I can’t… I can’t look at a cop the same,” Nahamko-White said.
The honour-roll student said she hasn’t been able to sleep since the ordeal.
“All you see when you close your eyes is just a man getting out of the car and just running at you full-speed, right?” she said.
“In that moment, you think you’re never going to see your family again. That’s what I think about every time I’m in bed and I’m alone.”
The teen hopes the officers get better training in communicating with people.
Edmonton criminal defence lawyer Tom Engel, whose practice regularly involves law enforcement issues and is an outspoken critic of poor police conduct, said sorry doesn’t cut it.
“It should have been obvious to the police officer that she was resisting arrest because she was terrified, not because she was a suspect,” Engel said.
“It’s a gross overreaction from the police.”
Nahamko said she doesn’t think all officers are bad but incidents like this reflect poorly on police.
“I taught my children to trust you — the uniform. I taught my children to go to them for help. So who do you go to?” Nahamko wondered.
Nahamko previously worked with law enforcement, as a victim services advocate with the RCMP in Slave Lake. The mother and daughter, along with and Engel, all agree the ordeal could have been avoided.
“There were no flashing lights, there was nothing really indicating they were police other than them saying they were the police and we all know people masquerade as police and they’re not police — they’re dangerous,” Engel said.
“You prevent it by turning on your flashing lights to identify yourself as police.”
Police Chief Dale McFee said the situation is being looked into but reminded citizens they do need to obey officers.
“When police ask you to stop more than one time, you know, it’s really against the law to run. So I think we have to look at this and we obviously have to figure out if something did go wrong, what went wrong.”
As is standard process, EPS said the officers involved immediately notified their supervisors of the circumstances of the arrest, one of whom attended the scene to conduct a review. The EPS Professional Standards Branch is now investigating.
Police said the woman from the initial domestic violence call was never arrested.