Edited video of man arrested at Union Station doesn’t tell whole story: Metrolinx, Toronto police

Click to play video: 'Debate over edited video of arrest at Toronto’s Union Station'
Debate over edited video of arrest at Toronto’s Union Station
WATCH ABOVE: Some say the video submitted to, and posted by, Desmond Cole is an example of police brutality. Others suggest it's not a full story without the full video. Mark Carcasole reports – Mar 20, 2018

An edited video of a man being arrested at Toronto’s Union Station bus terminal and posted on social media by activist Desmond Cole, claiming police brutality, is being criticized by transit officials and Toronto police for failing to provide a full picture of the event.

“It is absolutely impossible to make any information-based comment without seeing the beginning, middle and the end,” Toronto police spokesperson Mark Pugash told Global News. “You need to see the entire video.”

The five-minute video posted by Cole — who stated it was edited for length and to protect the man’s identity — takes place in the early morning hours of March 11 and begins by showing three GO Transit constables speaking to a man they call “Chris,” who is sitting on a bench and is said by one of the officers to have mental health issues.

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“And not 90 seconds later, I see that man being arrested, taken down to the ground and treated very forcefully for the next half hour at least by about a dozen transit cops and Toronto police officers,” Cole told Global News on Tuesday.

“Including about an eight or nine minute span where one police officer has her knee on this young man’s head and neck, which is against police training and can kill somebody. And he already had his hands cuffed behind his back when this officer was using that amount of force on his head and neck with her knee.”

The video, which Cole partially narrates as well, shows the officers questioning the man and accusing him of lying before placing him under arrest.

Cole said it’s “very, very sad” to see that any officer would use this kind of force on somebody who was “helpless” and “restrained” and who they identified as having mental health issues.

He said most of the response he’s received to the video has been outrage, but not a “whole lot of surprise.”

Steven Summerville, a use of force expert and president of the Stay Safe Instructional Program, told Global News on Tuesday that from what he saw in the edited version of the video, there is context that might be lacking from the incident as a whole.

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“I see some suggestion that you are dealing with an emotionally-disturbed person, perhaps somebody dealing with a history of being mentally ill,” he said.

“In that set of circumstances, [the officers] should attempt to develop rapport, to attempt verbal de-escalation strategies.”

Summerville said in these types of situations, it is best for officers to let the person in question know that they are here to help. They can ask, “Are you okay? Are you on any medication that we should be aware of?”

“Try to speak softer, try to lessen the impact … some people are fearful of uniforms,” he said.

Summerville said he doesn’t know what kind of information the officers were presented with either before or during the altercation.

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“There did not appear to be any verbal de-escalation strategies or no attempts to try to develop rapport with the person that I’m led to believe is showing signs of disassociate mental health,” he said while referencing the video.

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“If you’re going to apply force on a person in this community, you need to have your actions be deemed to be reasonable and necessary in the detality of the circumstances.”

He said he saw no resistance in the video that “suggested the need to be physically restrained,” but emphasized that he cannot say whether the officers were in the right or wrong because it was only an edited portion of the video that was released.

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The video also appears to show a paramedic arrive on scene, but was told not to treat the man.

“That man was told an ambulance was coming to check him out and almost half an hour later when the paramedics arrive, the police officers instructed the paramedic not to treat him and the paramedic agreed. And the paramedic didn’t ask the man if he’s okay,” Cole said, adding that the unedited version depicts the same situation.

Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins said the incident, which was also recorded on transit security video, lasted well over an hour, while the edited video only showed a small portion of what happened.

“Before the arrest takes place this particular man was aggressively panhandling,” Aikins said.

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“When I say aggressively, he was swearing, screaming, getting very close to people’s faces. Demanding money, grabbing at their wallets when they were trying to buy tickets. There were women and children that he was being very aggressive with.”

Officials said the man was asked several times to leave by transit safety officers but he kept on coming back.

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“The video that Desmond posts starts at the place where the officer has asked him to sit down and talk to him. He sits on the bench and another officer arrives. They try to get the man to provide ID, and that wasn’t working, or an accurate name, that wasn’t working,” Aikins said.

“So they talked to him for about 20-25 minutes before they made a determination in that moment that he needed to be put under arrest. We’re reviewing that decision. Would every officer make that decision? You know, that’s what we look at. But in that moment, on a very late Saturday night, he decided he needed to put him under arrest.”

Aikins said the video shows officers engaging in de-escalation procedures prior to using force to arrest the man.

“They used such a minimal amount of force that they couldn’t get him under arrest. He was flailing around,” Aikins said.

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“They got his hand behind his back. The police shackled his legs to stop him from kicking and he was finally arrested. It isn’t a pretty video to watch [by] any means, but he is not injured. You won’t see any blows or anything.”

A clip from the full video provided to Global News by Cole appears to show the man kicking one of the officers trying to detain him in the head. This interaction was not in the edited video shared on Facebook.

WATCH: Clip from video of man arrested at Union Station appears to show him kicking officer

Click to play video: 'Clip from video of man arrested at Union Station appears to show him kicking officer'
Clip from video of man arrested at Union Station appears to show him kicking officer

Cole said he was made aware of the video when the person who filmed it approached him unsure of what to do with it. Cole spoke to the man, reviewed the video and produced the edited version. He said he did not release the full footage in order to protect the identity of the man in the video and because he said as a journalist, he has a “right” to protect the man.

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“This is a human being, this is a person, so I’m not going to dump all of their private life and details onto the internet. He needs to have his dignity preserved even though he was treated so horribly and that’s why I didn’t put out the entire unedited video.”

He said if Metrolinx, who he stressed is a public company, has over an hour of video, they can release it to the public and be accountable.

“No matter what happened before this incident, nothing justifies you putting your knee on somebody’s head and neck when their hands are cuffed behind their back,” Cole said.

“Nothing ever justifies that, and the fact that Metrolinx is not saying that today shows how far they are willing to go to defend police brutality.”

Transit officials said senior members of Metrolinx have already viewed the video multiple times and procedures on how to engage people with mental illness is under review.

“We look at this tape because of the scrutiny. We looked at it many times by many eyes to determine if they used the minimal amount of force, and that was determined,” Aikins said.

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“But there was an overall review happening about how we deal with our procedures of dealing with vulnerable persons and how we can do an even better job at dealing with vulnerable people and protect public safety,” Aikins said.

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Toronto police said the man arrested in the video, identified as 34-year-old Justin Williams of no fixed address, was charged with four offences including soliciting in an aggressive manner, obstructing a peace officer, assaulting a peace officer and failing to comply with probation.

Pugash said edited videos should be scrutinized and members of the public should be careful not to draw conclusions unless all the evidence is brought forward.

“That video shows it out of context. The only way to reach a balance is to see the whole thing,” Pugash said.

“We allege that he provided a false name and false date of birth. He also was in court a year ago and was on probation as a result. He failed to comply with probation and we allege that he assaulted a peace officer.”

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Summerville said if he was investigating the incident, the release of an edited version of the video brings up certain issues that he would seek more answers or clarification on.

“What were you thinking? The need to talk to the person – did you try to de-escalate? If so, how? If not, why not?” he said.

“There’s a lot of questions still left to be answered with this particular incident.”

With files from Mark Carcasole


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