A photo posted to Instagram that shows two smiling police officers holding a man being detained will now be investigated, the Edmonton Police Service told Global News on Wednesday.
“This matter was brought to the attention of Chief (Dale) McFee on Monday, June 1, 2020, and he immediately determined it would be investigated by the Professional Standards Branch,” EPS spokesperson Patrycja Mokrzan said in an email. “The EPS was made aware of the photo on May 11, which is when a review started.”
The photo, which was posted to Const. Mike Roblin’s Instagram account, shows police officers smiling on both sides of a shirtless man in handcuffs with one of the officers placing his hand on the detained man’s shoulder. The man’s face appears to be blacked out with marker.
“This fine young man was so thrilled with the service we provided him, he wanted to commemorate the moment with a picture,” the Instagram post reads. “Just kidding, he was so high he thought he was on Mars.”
The post includes the hashtags #summertimepolicing and #dontdodrugskids.
On Thursday, McFee appeared on 630 CHED Afternoons and said it’s important to get to the bottom of exactly what happened and who was involved in the photo.
Tom Engel, an Edmonton-based criminal defence lawyer, said he was shocked when he first saw the post.
“It was such a shocking disregard for the… privacy of this individual, because even though the face is blacked out, people would know who he is,” Engel said during an appearance Tuesday on 630 CHED’s The Ryan Jespersen Show.
“He knows who he is. And you know, he may see this in the media, I don’t know. But it’s a shocking disregard for for human rights.
“It’s dehumanizing, mocking a suspect, mocking drug addiction and just the fact that this person is under arrest. This is not supposed to be put out in the public except through the authorization of the chief of police.”
Engel said posting the photo was “incredibly stupid” and that he fears it “betrays an attitude on the part of these two officers that this is OK.” He also questioned why the man’s face was blacked out and if it could have been because he had injuries on his face.
The EPS told Global News on Wednesday that it believes a third police officer took the photo of the other two with the detained man.
Police did not say if the man in the photo was charged with any crime. The EPS said, however, that the Professional Standards Branch “is attempting to contact the affected person, so they can be a meaningful participant in the process.”
McFee said Thursday that the man in the photo has not filed a complaint but reiterated that police are trying to locate him “to get his voice” for the investigation.
“That’s the type of thing we’re going to do so we have all the facts, and when we make a decision, we make the decision with the right circumstances, under the right circumstances,” he said.
Police have not disclosed the names of officers believed to be involved in the incident.
“It is EPS policy to name officers only when criminal charges are laid or if the matter goes to a public disciplinary hearing, so in this case, we won’t be naming or confirming the names,” police said.
“What they’re talking about is not a Police Act investigation,” Engel said. “The chief needs to engage a complaint under the Police Act and follow the strict disciplinary process. And if it’s found that these officers have breached the Police Act, then they should be going to a disciplinary hearing.
“They should face serious consequences.”
Engel said he believes it is important for the public to know what comes out of any investigation into the photo.
“But the problem is that if.. they have this internal review, we will never hear the results of it,” he said. “The public won’t. And the public needs to know the results.”
McFee indicated Thursday that the investigation needs to be done properly and thoroughly but said police will “disclose those findings once we have it completed.”
“That’s my commitment, and that hasn’t wavered,” he said.
Engel said he believes most Edmontonians will expect McFee to discipline the officers.
“If he doesn’t do it, that sends a message to the public that our police service does not take this seriously,” he said. “And that’s a real problem for the reputation of the Edmonton Police Service.
“I think it (the photo) displays a gross character flaw… not only for a police officer, but for any human being to be treating another human being like that. And… what are these two cops doing when the cameras aren’t on them, you know? If they think they can, they put this out on social media, what are they doing when there are no cameras and no onlookers? That’s very disturbing to me.”
Engel said he also believes criminal defence lawyers could use this incident in cases where their clients are arrested by one of the officers in the photo “to expose their propensity to mistreat people.”
“In any case where the conduct of the police is an issue or their credibility and reliability is an issue, then that picture will be used,” he said. “You better believe it.”
— With files from Kirby Bourne, 630 CHED