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Federal government denies ‘excessive force’ in Kelowna, B.C., arrest where punches thrown

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Kelowna RCMP has launched an internal review after a social media video shows a violent arrest in downtown Kelowna.

The attorney general of Canada is vehemently denying that RCMP used excessive force in a rough arrest in Kelowna, B.C., earlier this year, which was partially caught on cellphone video.

Tyler Russell filed a notice of civil claim in June against the RCMP, B.C.’s justice minister and Const. Siggy Pietrzak, after the Mountie punched him several times in the face.

In the claim, Russell alleges he was sitting in the passenger seat of a company vehicle in a downtown Kelowna parking lot on May 30 at approximately 6:22 p.m.

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He was approached by two RCMP officers who asked that he step outside and provide a breath sample, according to court documents, but he refused because he wasn’t driving or in control of the vehicle and had no car keys, the lawsuit claims.

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When Russell did eventually get out of the vehicle, the document claims, two officers had “total control” of his movements and he “was never a threat” when Pietrzak came running.

“Without any hesitation, (Pietrzak) began punching the plaintiff repeatedly, causing the plaintiff lacerations, damage to his nose, cuts on his face, facial bruising, swelling and excessive bleeding, as well as damage to his ribs,” the lawsuit alleges.

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‘Shocked and saddened’: UBCO student union reacts to video of student being dragged during wellness check

The violent part of the arrest was caught on bystander video, which has since gone viral.

The video shows one officer using a chokehold on Russell, while the other has a hold of his arm, when Const. Pietrzak rushes to the scene and delivers several blows to Russell’s head.

In a response to the notice of civil claim, the attorney general of Canada says RCMP members were “justified and authorized” to use as much force as was necessary to arrest and detain Russell.

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“The AGC denies that the RCMP Members used excessive force in apprehending the Plaintiff, or otherwise, and say that any force they used against the Plaintiff was reasonable and justified in law,” the response to the claim states.

The federal government says RCMP members did not cause or contribute to the plaintiff’s injuries, and if it is determined Russell did suffer injuries, that he acted negligently in respect to his own safety and “caused, or alternatively, contributed to, any such injury,” court documents claim.

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“In response to the claim for aggravated and punitive damages, the AGC says that at all material the times the RCMP members acted in good faith and without malice and there is no basis for any award of aggravated or punitive damages,” the response says.

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The response to the claim provides more insight about the incident from the perspective of police.

Court documents allege officers were responding to reports of an impaired driver and identified Russell sitting in the passenger seat of a pick-up truck, but say he didn’t want to speak to police.

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Kelowna RCMP respond to social media video showing man arrested in downtown Kelowna

“Const. Davidson observed that the Plaintiff was sweating, had pasty lips, and his eyes were moving erratically. Const. Davidson suspected that the Plaintiff was under the influence of narcotics and/or alcohol,” the document alleges.

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A responding officer contacted the registered owner of the vehicle, who indicated the plaintiff no longer had permission to drive the company vehicle, and asked police to retrieve the keys.

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Russell exited the vehicle upon request, the documents state, but became “argumentative and verbally aggressive” when officers requested a breath sample.

“Based on the Plaintiff’s yelling and aggressive behavior, Const. Carter sensed the situation escalating and requested back-up,” the response states.

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Russell was “verbally arrested” for obstructing an impaired driving investigation, the document alleges, but resisted arrest, causing a physical struggle with police.

“RCMP member Constable Pietrzak … then arrived at the scene and applied multiple closed hand strikes to the Plaintiff’s head in order to gain control over the Plaintiff,” the court filing says.

“The constables were then able to bring the Plaintiff to the ground, place handcuffs on him, and move him to the back of Const. Donahue’s police vehicle.”

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A half-empty bottle of hard alcohol was discovered behind Russell’s passenger seat, the response alleges, as well as a glass pipe with unburned white powder, and a flap of white powder, believed to be cocaine or methamphetamine, police allege.

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Russell was not criminally charged in the incident.

Const. Pietrzak was placed on administrative duties in the wake of the arrest, and is facing a code of conduct investigation.

In an email to Global News on Tuesday, Sept. 22, RCMP said the constable is still on administrative duty.

“The code of conduct investigation remains on-going,” said RCMP.

“A statutory investigation was initiated and also remains on-going. We are mindful this matter is also subject to an on-going civil court process and as such we must limit our comments accordingly.

“We will not be providing any further comment with respect to the outcome of the statutory investigation until it has been assessed by the BC Prosecution Service.”

None of the allegations have been proven in court.