An Alberta man on trial for assault in Winnipeg said he feared he was going to die as RCMP officers knelt on his neck while arresting him.
Nathan Lasuik, 44, is on trial for the assault of a man following a dispute in the Winnipeg airport arrival area and the assault of two RCMP officers who responded to the incident.
“I was pleading for air, for somebody to get off me and for somebody to film this,” Lasuik testified last week in court.
“I was feeling like my life was coming to an end.”
A nearly five-minute-long video shown in court last week shows two officers pinning Lasuik to the ground and one officer’s knee allegedly pinning his neck down the entire time.
The incident happened at the James Richardson International Airport in April 2019 as Lasuik was being arrested for the assault of a man outside the terminal.
Lasuik is arguing police officers breached his Charter rights by using excessive force to arrest him.
“I was fearful I was going to die. It felt like it was forever I was being choked out for,” he told the court.
Lasuik said he and his family were in town from Fort McMurray, Alta.
After landing they were outside loading up Lasuik’s father’s car when the 44-year-old got into a fight with another man outside the arrivals terminal.
Words were exchanged between the two men and Lasuik said the other man threatened his family and children.
Lasuik said that’s when he “snapped and lost control” and kicked the man in the leg, shoved him in the face and knocked his glasses off.
Airport security video provided in court shows him approaching the man with his arms out before hitting him in the face.
Mounties were called in and tried to get Lasuik under control.
The video then appears to show Lasuik, still agitated, striking one of the officers in the face and knocking him backward before getting into his father’s car.
As he is pulled from the car by the two officers, they appear to hit him several times in the body and face.
Moments later, the video apparently shows a handcuffed Lasuik kicking one of the officers in the groin area.
“You’ve got to do whatever you can to stay alive,” Lasuik said.
In a second video, recorded by Lasuik’s father, Lasuik is on the ground screaming he can’t breathe with the two Mounties over him.
“I’m gonna die,” Lasuik can be heard screaming. “Let me breathe.”
“You’re breathing,” the officer shouted. “When you’re talking, you’re breathing.”
The officer’s knee apparently remains on Lasuik’s neck for the entirety of the nearly five-minute-long cellphone video. Lasuik repeatedly begs the officer to move, saying he is having trouble breathing.
“Please nothing. You opened your mouth one too many times,” the officer can be heard saying back. “Now you’re a tough guy, aren’t you?”
Global News reviewed portions of the audio from the first two-days of the trial.
During one day, the officer initially testified that he held his knee on Lasuik’s shoulder as he is trained to do. It was only when he was shown the video while under cross-examination that he admitted to the neck pin.
At the end of the video, one of the officers can be heard demanding the cellphone video be turned over, which Lasuik’s father refused to do.
Lasuik’s case will be back in court on Aug. 30 when a use-of-force expert is expected to testify.
Manitoba RCMP said Wednesday they were told about the video and the accusations that day.
In response, Manitoba RCMP Commanding Officer Jane MacLatchy said the incident has been referred to the Independent Investigation Unit, which probes incidents involving Manitoba police officers. RCMP are also conducting a comprehensive internal review of the officer’s actions.
His duty status is also being reviewed, she added.
“Let me be very clear, the RCMP does not teach nor endorse any technique where RCMP officers place a knee on the head or neck,” MacLatchy said.
“I found the video very disturbing. Hearing a man clearly informing police officers that he cannot breathe is all too present in our collective consciousness.”
The National Police Federation urged media and the public not to make a snap judgment based on the video.
“It is important to keep in mind that this is just a small portion of a much longer incident in which Mr. Lasuik attacked a random stranger while intoxicated – which triggered the police response – and then repeatedly punched, kicked and attempted to headbutt RCMP members who responded to the disturbance by attempting to de-escalate the situation,” said Brian Sauvé, president of the NPF.
“Policing in Canada is highly regulated with multiple levels of oversight, and we welcome that expertise.
“It is not fair or accurate for the media or public to speculate on the appropriateness of a specific arrest based on brief and sensational footage. Such decisions should be left to regulators and experts.”