The Edmonton Police Service held a news conference Thursday to address a video from July 2018 that was circulating online and shows an EPS officer using his knee on a subject’s neck and head area to restrain him during an arrest.
The arrest takes place next to a busy road. Two white male officers are holding the Black man on the ground on his stomach. The words “stop resisting” and “tasered” can be heard at the beginning of the short video before one officer presses his knee on the man’s neck.
The 14-second video was posted Wednesday on the sife_ngeze Instagram acccount. The caption identifies the Edmonton police department and the poster says the incident happened to her husband in Edmonton.
Jean-Claude Rukundo, the man being arrested in the video, told Global News he had just finished work on July 27 when he got a phone call from Sifa Ngeze, his wife, saying she had been in a car accident. He met her at the scene on Yellowhead Trail and 121 Street.
Rukundo said he was asked by one of the officers on scene if he was involved in the collision. Rukundo said he explained his wife was and he was the owner of the vehicle and was on the phone with the insurance company.
Rukundo said the officer asked him several times to leave the accident scene.
“I remember he said, ‘If I have to tell you twice I’m going to arrest you.'”
The father of five says the officer’s knee was on his neck for three minutes.
“I told him at the beginning I couldn’t breath because I had pressure on my back on my on spine and on my neck.
“There was no reason for me to be treated that way when I was there to help.”
“I was afraid for his life,” Ngeze said. “I was afraid that I would never see him again. I was afraid he was going to get hurt in some way. The thing that scared me the most was that I would have to raise the kids by myself.”
She said she’s still afraid any time she sees a police officer.
“I start shaking, I get scared. That image comes to my mind — the day that I saw the police officer in his vest, his knee on top of my husband’s neck, that’s all I see and I fear that moment is going to happen again.”
Staff Sgt. Terry Langley, with the EPS Training Unit, said the man was arrested after he arrived at the scene of a collision that a family member was involved in. An exchange occurred — a “misunderstanding,” Langley called it — between the man and an officer, the man was asked to “move along” and then an assault occurred.
Langley says the man was arrested because of that assault. He wouldn’t say if he was charged.
Rukundo said he was charged with obstruction and resisting arrest but he hired a lawyer and the charges were eventually dropped.
Langley also said there’s another video of the incident that shows more of what happened before and after the arrest. He said that video appears to show the officer attempting to target the subject’s back initially, before his leg glances off closer to the head area.
“In evaluating both portions of video as one entire video event, what we believed to have occurred is the positioning of the leg across the subject’s head was not any longer than about 40 seconds.”
Langley said that longer video also shows the officer adjusting his leg position to the subject’s back later in the arrest.
“At some point, there was an assessment by the officer that his leg wasn’t in the right area.”
Reporters asked EPS for a copy of that second video.
Langley said Edmonton police officers are not instructed to use a knee-on-neck restraint.
“We don’t use that. We don’t do that.”
He said EPS members are trained to use other methods of de-escalation first, but if a subject is combative, officers have the ability to use force, if needed, under the Criminal Code of Canada.
If officers are attempting to make a lawful arrest on a subject lying on their front, members are trained to target the back and shoulder blade area.
“When we have a suspect that is prone… we don’t train to target the head and neck, typically… If we need to put some weight or pressure, we stay away from head and neck and target the shoulder and shoulder blade area,” Langely said.
EPS members are also trained to keep most of their body weight in their feet; rather than on the subject, he said.
Langley didn’t call this officer’s actions a mistake; instead calling his technique “not optimal” but explained real-life situations are very dynamic.
“Sometimes there is misapplication of the tactics.”
He also wouldn’t say if the police officer faced any disciplinary action as a result of the incident, directing Global News to the Professional Standards branch.
Police Chief Dale McFee was asked about the 2018 arrest video Thursday. While it was before his time as chief, he has reviewed it. He also said the incident was thoroughly investigated.
“It was investigated. There was independent witnesses as well as police. There was two videos of this. The approximate time on the neck was about 40 seconds, is what the video shows.
“Do we train neck restraint? Absolutely not. Some police services do. Edmonton Police Service doesn’t.
“But in a dynamic situation, where your leg gets and where your circumstances take somebody under control, that’s a fluid situation,” McFee said.
“That particular officer in this case was found and he handled himself appropriately. The individual was contained. It wasn’t something like everybody’s comparing this to to what happened in the U.S., where somebody sat there deliberately for eight minutes. That did not happen. There was no injury in relation to that.”
Still, McFee said the other issue is the personal experience Rukundo and Ngeze had with Edmonton police.
“We’re reaching out to them to have a discussion because they’ve been impacted with their interaction… It doesn’t change the findings of the investigation, but we now need to take the responsibility… How do we repair that?”
The investigation looked at the whole picture, McFee said, not just the portion that was shared on social media. But the investigation’s findings don’t take away the fact that relationships and trust need to be repaired, the police chief said.
“That message from what I saw from Ms. Ngeze and Mr. Rukundo was genuine. They were heartfelt. They have fear. And whatever the underlying instrument — if that’s because of us or because of other things and compounded by us — we need to have that discussion with them because a Professional Standards investigation and applying discipline doesn’t always fix the problem.
“And the problem is the relationship. It’s the relationship that we’re investing in doubling down on right now,” McFee said.
Langley said, out of 265,000 case files in 2019, EPS used force in 0.89 per cent of them. Category 2 — a more serious level of force — was used in 0.4 per cent of cases, he said.
However, he said if the department is seeing examples of officers ending up in less optimal control positions, “we need to address that.”
Langley said the EPS has been talking about ways to update regular training and include not just what techniques officers should use, but also what techniques they should not use.
“It’s prudent. The public is telling us that these things need to be looked at differently.”
Issues of police use of force and racial injustice have been thrust into the spotlight after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The out-of-work bouncer was arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store and died after a white officer pressed his knee on the handcuffed Black man’s neck for several minutes.
Floyd’s death has sparked demonstrations across the U.S. and around the globe.
Authorities filed a new, more serious murder charge — second-degree, up from third-degree — against the officer at the centre of the case, Derek Chauvin.
Prosecutors also charged the three other Minneapolis officers at the scene of Floyd’s death with aiding and abetting a murder.
The prosecutors’ report indicates Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.
Floyd was taken to a hospital by ambulance, where he died a short time later. Police have said Floyd did not have a weapon, nor were any weapons involved in the incident.
On Tuesday, McFee released a video, calling Floyd’s death “unwanted” and “criminal.”
“It’s made us all look at ourselves internally, externally and realize this in particular, this death, is certainly not part of the profession of policing,” McFee said.
In a direct address to the Black African Canadian Community, McFee promised to “walk shoulder to shoulder, be with you, help you get through this, help that your voice is being heard.”
In 2017, documents showed Black people were 3.6 times more likely to be stopped during a street check in Edmonton. Indigenous people were four times more likely and Indigenous women were 6.5 times more likely to be stopped.
— With files from Breanna Karstens-Smith, Global News, Aaron Morrison, Nomaan Merchant and Mat Sedensky, The Associated Press