Evan Penner’s mother couldn’t finish watching a widely circulated video of a Saskatoon police officer repeatedly striking her son.
Sherri Penner travelled from northern Manitoba to Saskatoon for a news conference Thursday with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN).
“I just want to find justice for him… because he did not deserve that,” Sherri said.
On July 4, Saskatoon police arrested Penner, who is Indigenous. The video released by the Indigenous Joint Action Coalition shows one officer attempting to restrain the suspect before seven others arrived.
The six-and-a-half-minute video begins with the member telling Penner to “stop resisting” as he is wrestled to the ground and punched multiple times. Police also used a Taser on the man.
“As a mother, it’s very hard to see something like that happen to your child,” Sherri said. “I wouldn’t want that to happen to anybody else’s child.”
Her son’s lawyer, Eleanore Sunchild, told media “what happened to Evan Penner is intolerable” and the use of force wasn’t justified.
The man is traumatized and will need help recovering from the toll of the ordeal, Sunchild said.
During Thursday’s news conference, FSIN leaders reiterated their calls for an independent civilian oversight body for the police, along with calling on Saskatoon police to review their policies around officer use-of-force.
FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said officer training needs to improve, including “educating all of those officers of First Nation culture, protocols and our traditions.”
Better attention should also be paid to restorative justice and addressing systemic racism, Cameron said.
He also wants the officers fired, which he said the family has also requested.
While the group commended the man who recorded the video, they said any ambiguity would be cleared up if officers wore body cameras.
The Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners called a special meeting for Thursday afternoon in order to learn more about the incident and determine how to move forward when reviewing use-of-force.
During the meeting, Saskatoon police Chief Troy Cooper gave an account of how police encountered Penner on the afternoon of July 4, as the suspect was in the 500 block of 11th Street East.
“Our office dispatched an officer to a suspicious person who had been in a residential front garden, using a hose to bathe himself,” Cooper said.
The chief said Penner was crouched on a deck he didn’t own.
According to Cooper, the officer’s pepper spray proved ineffective during a struggle with Penner. The man opened the officer’s duty belt and removed a magazine, Cooper said, and tried to control the officer’s Taser.
Penner suffered a non-life-threatening facial injury.
“I understand that these are very emotional times,” Cooper said.
The chief said his officers “remain professional” and will continue their duties “despite the additional scrutiny that they are facing and despite the additional risk that is included in policing today.”
Cooper has confirmed the province’s Public Complaints Commission (PCC) will review the incident with “appropriate oversight.” He asked for patience as the PCC investigates. The Saskatoon Board of Police Commission doesn’t investigate or discipline officers.
Mayor Charlie Clark, one of the board’s commissioners, expressed concerns that the matter could have a polarizing effect, where people feel obligated to take a position for or against police — something he said has happened in the community before.
“I worry when I look at social media and I look at… these sorts of opinions and perspectives that are thrown around,” Clark said.
During the meeting, roughly 30 protesters gathered outside Saskatoon City Hall to protest what they considered police brutality.
A spokesperson for the Saskatoon Police Service has confirmed the officer-involved “has taken a few shifts of leave before returning to work,” but has not been placed on administrative leave.
Penner was charged with assaulting a police officer, disarming a police officer, mischief and possessing a controlled substance.
Penner’s arrest came after two prior calls about the man earlier in the day, according to Saskatoon Police Association president Dean Pringle.
Pringle said the officer involved is a person of colour and attends Indigenous cultural ceremonies.
– With files from Dave Giles, Nathaniel Dove and Thomas Piller