The Saskatoon police officer who delivered multiple blows to an Indigenous man’s face while being recorded on video has been cleared of any wrongdoing, according to police chief Troy Cooper.
The July 4, 2020, arrest of Evan Penner resulted in condemnation from numerous groups, including the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations.
Critics of the Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) said the unnamed officer used excessive force to subdue the man.
Saskatchewan’s Public Complaints Commission has since concluded an investigation that hasn’t been made public, though Cooper shared its conclusion during Thursday’s meeting of the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners.
“Their investigation showed that there was no improper conduct by the officers involved,” Cooper said.
“I agree with that finding.”
A video released by the Indigenous Joint Action Coalition shows one officer attempting to restrain Penner before seven other SPS members 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. He suffered a non-life-threatening facial injury, police said.
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The officers were responding to a report of a suspicious man using a garden house to bathe himself, according to police, and during the confrontation, Penner opened an officer’s duty belt, removed a magazine and tried to control the officer’s Taser.
A bench warrant has been issued for Penner, allowing police to arrest him and bring him before the court on charges including mischief, assaulting a police officer and possessing a controlled substance.
Attempts by Global News to reach Penner or a lawyer representing him were unsuccessful.
“This incident really showcased some of the challenges that we face as law enforcement relating to our interaction with mental health and with addictions,” Cooper told the board.
In the past 18 months, the SPS has expanded its presence of crisis team members and developed a mental health protocol to divert calls from police officers to mental health workers. In a year, as many as 150 calls could be diverted, Cooper said.
The service has also launched an alternative policing unit and participated in the province’s drug task force, which examines drug use as a health issue.
Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark, a police commission member, asked Cooper about conversations happening at the national level to de-escalate situations like Penner’s arrest.
Cooper said there have been talks among Canada’s chiefs of police regarding training and models currently used by officers.
“We’re working towards a national framework for de-escalation that will be consistent across the country in sort of a standardized way,” Cooper said.
Earlier this year, Saskatoon police launched a pilot project, equipping roughly 40 officers with body-worn cameras.
Saskatchewan remains the only province in Western Canada without a civilian-led oversight tasked with investigating incidents of police use of force resulting in serious injury or death.