Global News journalist files $900K wrongful arrest suit against Hamilton police
A Global News journalist who was arrested by a Hamilton police officer while covering the death of a 10-year-old girl has filed a statement of claim against the officer and the service.
“The [Hamilton Police Services] Board has a duty to ensure Hamilton Police Service officers are properly trained to facilitate and respect the right of members of the media to report on matters in the public interest,” the statement of claim filed by the legal counsel for Global News videographer Jeremy Cohn read.
“Constable [Jeffrey] Todoruck had a duty to the Plaintiff to respect his rights as a member of the media to report on matters in the public interest. Constable Todoruck breached this duty by wrongfully arresting and detaining Mr. Cohn in order to prevent him from filming and gathering news material.”
Cohn’s lawsuit, in which he is the sole plaintiff, seeks $700,000 in general damages for negligence, false arrest, false imprisonment, assault, battery, intentional infliction of mental suffering and a breach of Cohn’s Charter rights, as well as $200,000 for punitive damages.
The arrest happened on May 16 while Cohn and freelance journalist David Ritchie attended the scene of a crash in Waterdown where the girl had been struck and killed.
In the statement of claim, Cohn said he learned Ritchie was arrested by Todoruck while filming the scene had his equipment seized. He said he saw Ritchie sitting in a police cruiser, handcuffed and unattended, “several hundred feet” away from the collision site. Cohn observed Ritchie to be “shaking, pale and having trouble breathing.” That’s when Cohn said he was ordered to leave the area by Todoruck.
“At that time, no police tape had been put up and the officers on site did not begin to do so until later,” the statement of claim read.
WATCH: Global News videographer, freelance journalist arrested in Hamilton. Mike Drolet reports.
According to the statement of claim, Cohn said he spoke with the media relations officer for Hamilton police at the time to make him aware of the situation. He said he was told to continue filming the scene as he normally would. Cohn said officers began putting up police tape. He said he then backed away from the cruiser, noting that area residents were still inside the taped-off zone.
Just before he was placed under arrest, Cohn’s camera was recording while he made a second call to the media relations officer. The statement said the officer asked to speak with Ritchie, who was still in the cruiser, and while moving toward the cruiser, “suddenly and without warning, Constable Todoruck appeared in front of Mr. Cohn.”
“They have put up tape just now and we’re well, well behind the tape. Just so you know,” Cohn could be heard saying in audio recorded on Cohn’s camera.
“I’ve asked you to get out of here,” Todoruck was then heard saying, before he was grabbed.
“Don’t touch me. Do not touch me!” Cohn yelled.
“You’re under arrest. You’re under arrest. Put your camera down. You’re under arrest too,” the officer said.
“OK. OK. No problem,” Cohn said, before being escorted away from his camera.
Andrew Collins, a freelance journalist who works for multiple news organizations including Global News and filmed Cohn’s arrest, said in May that he arrived at the scene after Cohn and Ritchie. Collins said they, along with area residents, were about 150 metres from where the collision happened.
“There was no scene established as of yet. There was no direction from any officers on … where we couldn’t be. Civilians were all over the scene and [Cohn and Ritchie] were not interfering with anybody. They weren’t interfering with the family,” Collins said, adding officials removed the body of the girl from the scene by the time Cohn was on scene.
Collins filmed Cohn’s arrest and described what happened.
“I turned around and I saw Jeremy getting thrown to the ground, his tripod go flying, phone get thrown to the ground, and backpack taken off,” Collins previously told Global News.
“I ran right to the tape, run back over, and this cop is – (a) huge guy, probably 6’11” or whatever he was – on top of Jeremy, knee in the back.”
In his statement of claim, Cohn said he wasn’t told why he was arrested and was not informed of his right to contact a lawyer.
“Mr. Cohn was not provided with any explanation for the violent and humiliating treatment meted out by Constable Todoruck,” the statement read.
“Mr. Cohn was restrained with zip ties which were locked very tightly around his wrists, holding his arms behind his back in a painful position. Mr. Cohn was then pushed and pulled down the street aimlessly until he was put in a Hamilton Police Service cruiser where he was locked in the backseat.”
Cohn said in the statement of claim he was in custody for 45 minutes without being told why. He was eventually released without charges. He said the sergeant had “difficulty in removing the zip ties that were tightly binding Mr. Cohn’s hands” and that paramedics were needed to assist with removing the zip ties. The statement said paramedics observed, “Mr. Cohn had high blood pressure and was in pain.”
WATCH: Raw video captured by freelance photographer Andrew Collins shows Global News videographer’s arrest in Hamilton
At the time, Ritchie was charged with obstructing a peace officer and resisting arrest. On Oct. 17, Ritchie entered into a 12-month peace bond. Under the conditions of the peace bond, he was ordered to complete 12-and-a-half hours of community service and make a $250 donation. Hamilton police previously said in a statement the “accused accepted responsibility for the offence of obstructing a peace officer.”
Cohn, along with the office for his attorney Peter Jacobsen, declined to comment on the proceedings and referred to the statement of claim.
Ron Waksman, vice-president of editorial standards and practices for Global News, said in a statement the company stands behind Cohn as he takes legal action against the Hamilton Police Service.
“Unjustified police interference with the guaranteed rights of journalists to responsibly report the news is increasingly concerning, as is the excessive use of force by the arresting officer against Mr. Cohn which was captured on video shot by multiple sources,” Waksman said.
“We support Mr. Cohn in sending a message to police forces everywhere that such behaviour is unacceptable.”
The lawsuit comes after Tom Henheffer, then-executive director of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, said his organization called for an independent review of the incident. He also said there was a need for increased training for officers.
“There needs to be more oversight and there needs to be a public inquiry into what happened in this incident to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said in May.
A complaint was filed by Global News last year with the Ontario Independent Police Review Director’s office, an independent police watchdog that looks into complaints of police conduct by members of the public, and an investigation was launched. However, the findings haven’t been released as of Thursday afternoon.
As for the legal proceedings, the allegations have not been proven in court and a hearing date has not been scheduled.
Global News contacted Hamilton police Thursday afternoon to ask about the allegations contained in the documents.
Const. Jerome Stewart said the service “does not comment on civil proceedings that may be before the courts.”
Global News also attempted to contact Todoruck, but he was not immediately available.
Shortly after the incident, Hamilton Police Chief Eric Girt issued a written statement.
“As Chief of Police, I take the arrest of any member of the media seriously. As a result, I am reviewing this incident in the context of what transpired yesterday,” Girt wrote on May 17.
It’s not known what, if any, actions were taken since that review was announced.
Cohn said in the statement that he hasn’t received an update on what has been done to “address this egregious conduct.”
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