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Laval teen claims she was racially profiled during forceful arrest

Saleanna Sylla is lodging a civil rights and police ethics complaint against Laval police and the city. Sunday, April 7, 2019.
Saleanna Sylla is lodging a civil rights and police ethics complaint against Laval police and the city. Sunday, April 7, 2019. Billy Shields/Global News

A 16-year-old Laval girl and her mother are demanding answers after the teen says she was racially profiled and beaten up by Laval police.

The alleged incident took place in the early morning hours of March 24 near the intersection of Montmorency and Brian Streets.

Saleanna Sylla was leaving a private party with a friend when the two had an argument. The friend left and it was shortly thereafter that Sylla says police showed up.

“The police braked right in front of me and asked me if I had been involved in a fight,” she said in French during a press conference held at the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) on Sunday morning. “I simply told him ‘no, I haven’t done anything,’ and that’s when he grabbed my arm.”

Sylla explained she tried pulling her arm away and was then thrown face first on the pavement before being handcuffed and pushed up onto the hood of a squad car.

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READ MORE: Racial profiling a widespread, systemic problem in Montreal — report

She described being in a state of panic and agitated and spitting up a lot of blood and recalls being punched twice in the head.

Sylla claims the officers broke her nose and that she had trouble breathing during her arrest. Police had put a net over her face to prevent her from spitting.

“I was choking on my blood, I just couldn’t breathe,” she said.

It was after the net was put over her head that Sylla says police asked her to identify herself and called an ambulance.

Sylla’s mother Catherine says police contacted her and said her daughter was in hospital after injuring herself.

READ MORE: Video appears to show Laval police officer headbutting man during arrest

Once the family arrived, Catherine said the officers left.

“The doctors said she had a concussion and a broken nose,” she said. “How can police leave without explaining? I think the chief of police needs to choose his team carefully because that wasn’t professional.”

Sylla is lodging both a civil rights and police ethics complaint against the police officers involved and the city of Laval, with the help of CRARR.

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Alain Babineau, CRARR advisor and former RCMP officer, said the arrest is just another “extreme case of police overreaction.”

He argues police didn’t do their job that night.

“You need to investigate first, you need to find out from whomever is at the scene what their relation is to the call you just received,” Babineau said. “And in this case, they jumped immediately to a physical intervention that was not required.”

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Montreal couple looking for answers in alleged racial profiling case

In a written statement, Laval police spokesperson Evelyne Boudreau confirmed a police intervention involving a teenage girl had taken place on March 24 in connection with vandalized vehicles.

“The minor is the subject of three charges that were submitted to the court,” she wrote. “As of April 2, no complaints had been made to the internal affairs and the agents’ version shows us that their intervention was justified.”

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As for Sylla’s mother, she hopes the incident will raise awareness.

“I want people to think about police brutality. It shouldn’t happen.”