A tense confrontation captured on camera between several people filming a music video and Toronto police officers who responded with weapons drawn is sparking calls for change in how unconfirmed gun sightings are responded to.
Twy Korchinski Beals said he was outside with friends and family Wednesday night after shooting the video earlier in the evening. While they were outside at around 11:30 p.m., Toronto police officers approached the group and two of the officers could be seen holding their guns.
“As soon as they came they had their guns out on us,” he told Global News.
Korchinski Beals said when he saw the officers with their guns raised, he wanted to film the interaction on his cellphone.
“Just to protect everyone around me and my family and just to make sure they were on video to try and get them to lower their weapons and at least let us know what they were doing, which they did,” he said.
“They told us that there was a call about guns and music video shot, but there were no guns. We don’t roll with guns, we are leaders in the community right? A lot of youth look up to us so that’s one thing we don’t mess around with.
“Just like their body language and the fact that they had guns pointing at us, it got everybody on edge.”
At the beginning of the 81-second video posted on Instagram that captured part of the verbal exchange with police, officers could be seen with their guns drawn and heard saying, “get out of the car.”
Korchinski Beals then asked why they were told to get out of the car and why the officers had guns pointed at him.
He could be seen approaching a female officer with a drawn handgun, who told him, “We got a call for people shooting a music video with firearms, OK?”
Korchinski Beals pointed out again that the officer has a gun pointed at him, at which point she lowered her weapon and placed it in her holster. The officer asked Korchinski Beals if he has anything on him, to which he responded he didn’t.
He then could be seen walking over to a second officer who has an assault-style weapon drawn. The officer told him to back up and subsequently appeared to push Korchinski Beals.
Korchinski Beals responded by repeatedly swearing at the officer, who then smiles.
A third officer could then be seen approaching Korchinski Beals and takes him away from the officer who was still holding the assault-style gun.
“I’m not doing anything, I’m video recording,” Korchinski Beals said.
The officer holding the gun again came over to Korchinski Beals, and he again could be heard swearing at the officer.
People in the video were heard calling for calm before the clip ended.
Korchinski Beals is the brother Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year-old Black woman who fell to her death from a balcony after police were called to her apartment on May 27, 2020. Her death sparked calls for reform in how mental health calls are treated in the city.
Korchinski-Paquet’s family has said they wanted her to be taken to a mental health facility while officers said they were responding to a call about a possible assault.
Ontario’s police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), didn’t lay charges against officers in that incident.
SIU Director Joseph Martino previously said the officers tried to de-escalate the situation and “though their efforts were unsuccessful,” none of them broke the law.
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Martino said there was no evidence of police wrongdoing or “overt” racism in the incident itself, but noted race may have been a factor in the events leading up to the death of Korchinski-Paquet; the director said that examining systemic issues in policing is not his purview.
Christopher Schneider, a professor of sociology at Brandon University in Manitoba and an expert who has examined policing and social media, reviewed the video posted on Instagram.
“When we look at police protocol when they respond to a call where they are informed there are weapons, possibly firearms present, typically you will see a display or a show of force,” he told Global News.
He highlighted the initial interaction that showed the female officer was attempting to de-escalate the situation by putting her gun back into its holster.
“What that signals to me and the viewers is that the officer has determined using her discretion that there is no firearm … and that there is no danger present,” he said.
“Officers don’t put away their weapons if they believe there is still danger present.”
When Korchinski Beals approached the officer who held the assault-style firearm, Schneider said the situation begins to escalate.
“The police officer in the video appears to take issue with being confronted. His authority was being challenged. He kind of smirks and the smirk suggests, ‘I’m in charge here,’” he said.
When asked about the interaction, a Toronto police spokesperson told Global News in a statement that officers were called to investigate after members of the public reported sightings of guns in a crowd of people shooting a music video.
The statement confirmed officers didn’t find any weapons and no one was arrested.
It said the responding officers “acted appropriately and in accordance with their de-escalation training.”
“The officers demonstrated restraint and once they assessed the situation and determined there was no immediate firearms risk, the officers promptly de-escalated, and re-holstered their firearms,” the statement said.
“No one was injured and no arrests were made. The group dispersed from the residential street shortly after the officers arrived.”
Those who witnessed the confrontation said there needs to be a change in how police respond to unconfirmed situations.
“Their approach determines the outcome,” said Flash Milla, who witnessed the interaction.
“Most times they approach the situations really aggressively and I don’t know if it’s part of the teachings, but if that approach was different, maybe the outcome would be different.”
Questions raised about officers’ body-worn cameras
After reviewing the video, Schneider said he was concerned the entire incident wasn’t being recorded by two of the officers’ body-worn cameras.
“It’s very unsettling that the police are showing force by pulling out their weapons and turning them on people and they are doing that without their cameras being on,” he said.
“And this raises some serious questions about police transparency and police accountability and whether or not we would be having these conversations had this user video had not gone viral online.”
In May 2020, former Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders called for an expedited deployment of body-worn cameras following the death of Korchinski-Paquet. Earlier this year, the Toronto Police Service confirmed all frontline officers will be deployed with the devices by the end of October.
“The cameras that the Toronto Police Service use make a beeping noise when they are turned on and they also flash red and the officers are supposed to indicate to the public that they are being recorded.
“You can very clearly see in the beginning of the video, the officer who has her handgun drawn, the camera gets very close and her body-worn camera is not flashing red.”
The Toronto police statement said the video posted on social media “appears to be a partial video of a fuller response.”
“However, if anyone believes there is an issue, they may file a complaint with the OIPRD (Office Of Independent Police Review Director),” the statement said.
Korchinski Beals said he and his family plan on filing a formal complaint with the OIPRD over the incident. The agency is charged with investigating civilian complaints against police.