Alleged assault victim launches lawsuit against Toronto police after incident caught on camera
TORONTO – A man beaten by police in an incident caught on videotape earlier this month filed a lawsuit Wednesday alleging two officers attacked him without provocation and used excessive force during an illegal arrest.
Police then added insult to injury by scorning family members who complained about the alleged beating, relatives of Santokh Bola said.
“You go to these people who have higher authority, you expect them to do something about it, but they don’t,” said Bola’s sister Sonia. “It was frustrating, it was angering.”
Bola, 21, of Woodbridge, Ont., had driven to a west-end plaza at about 8 a.m. on Nov. 1 to help out at his grandfather’s store. He had parked and just gotten out of his car when two officers, guns drawn, rushed at him, yelling at him to “get down or be shot,” according to the family’s unproven statement of claim.
Cellphone video taken by a bystander shows the officers then arresting Bola, who yells: “Hello, I didn’t do anything, sir” – something he cries out repeatedly as they proceed to punch him 11 times in quick succession, knee him and kick him.
Bola, who has an intellectual disability, suffered bruises and cuts to his head and face, his existing tremors worsened and he may have received a brain injury, the suit alleges.
“He’s scared. He sleeps with a light on. He’s been having nightmares. This has actually traumatized him. We see the fear in his eyes. It’s so sad,” Sonia Bola said.
“It’s just swept under the rug and it can’t be. These people need to be held accountable.”
Bola himself did not speak at a news conference organized by his lawyers to discuss the lawsuit and screen the video.
Police have yet to file a defence to the untested claim, which seeks $5 million in various damages for Bola, his sister and parents.
However, police spokesman Mark Pugash said the video doesn’t indicate the information the officers had when they arrested Bola, who was released that day without charge.
Pugash disputed family claims that the two officers were responding to a call about an attempted burglary in the area.
“Minutes earlier, police had received a call – one of the most dangerous and urgent calls we get – about a man with a knife and we were given a description,” Pugash said. “The officers were responding.”
It will be up to the courts now – or the Office of the Independent Police Review Director – to determine whether the force used was reasonable under the circumstances.
Ken Byers, one of Bola’s lawyers, said how police behaved was inexcusable. The video, he said, speaks for itself.
“In my personal experience, my 34 years of practice, I’ve never had a case where I have witnessed such an excessive abuse of police power and excessive force,” Byers said. “There is no reason for it.”
The civilian agency that investigates cases of death or serious injury involving police said it had been unaware of the incident before watching the family’s news conference Wednesday.
“Since then, the SIU has contacted a Toronto police manager and reached out to Mr. Bola’s counsel to ascertain the particulars of the matter and to determine if Mr. Bola’s injury meets the criteria for an SIU investigation,” agency spokesman Jason Gennaro said in an email.
The family said they only discovered someone had shot the video a day or so after the incident, when they went looking for witnesses. They refused to say who had taken it.
Sonia Bola said an officer ordered them to leave the police station when they complained “because he didn’t appreciate how we were feeling.” Pugash said the superintendent did subsequently invite them for a chat.