One day after video surfaced on social media showing a man in northern Alberta being kneed by a police officer seven times, a senior RCMP official said the province’s police watchdog is investigating and the officer has been placed on administrative duty.
“I can share with you that the arresting officer’s actions have been referred to the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team,” Chief Supt. Sean Curry, the officer in charge for the RCMP’s western Alberta district, told reporters on a video conference call on Thursday.
Curry noted that members of the RCMP district’s “senior management has had the opportunity to speak with local Indigenous leaders whose community members have been affected by this.” An RCMP spokesperson later told Global News that the person arrested was an Indigenous man.
“Understandably, they wish to know how this transpired,” Curry said of the Indigenous leaders. “They have my assurance that we will closely and transparently work with ASIRT to ensure this matter is fully investigated.”
James Ahnassay, chief of Dene Tha’ First Nation, told Global News the man arrested is not a member of his community but it is his understanding he is close with some people who are.
“Of course… (there are) concerns, including for the leadership, whenever video footage (surfaces) of what appears to be a police officer beating up on someone…. (but) we don’t yet know the story of how it started or how it ends,” he said.
The RCMP said the incident unfolded at the Flamingo Inn in High Level, Alta., on Wednesday afternoon. According to the RCMP, someone reported that “intoxicated people (were) causing a disturbance” at the hotel.
Curry said that when a lone RCMP officer arrived at the hotel, she “identified one individual as the potential instigator of the disturbance.”
“The person was very intoxicated, and the member attempted to arrest the individual,” Curry alleged.
“(The video) shows our officer striking the subject in an effort to bring them under control,” he said. “The appropriateness and level of force used to make this arrest is under review.”
When asked how the officer was bringing the man “under control” given that the portion of the encounter caught on video shows the man on the ground and does not appear to show him hitting or threatening an officer, Curry said he could not comment further given the ASIRT investigation.
On Wednesday night, an RCMP spokesperson confirmed to Global News that a 30-second video that was circulating on social media showed part of the encounter.
It shows a man lying on the ground next to a pickup truck in a parking lot. A police officer, who appears to be a fair-skinned woman, is seen kneeing the person four times. Two people are seen standing on either side of the officer watching.
A police vehicle can then be seen pulling up and another RCMP officer approaches the man on the ground. The officer who kneed the man can then be seen punching him five times.
The officer is then seen getting up and kneeing the person three more times while the officer who just arrived appears to be trying to hold the person on the ground. Both officers are then seen getting up and then the video ends.
The man on the ground did not appear to be handcuffed.
Curry confirmed Thursday that the man was arrested and taken into custody at the High Level RCMP detachment. He said three hours later, emergency medial services personnel arrived, and after assessing the man, took him to hospital as a precaution.
“He was later released from hospital without charges,” Curry said.
He added that he cannot comment on whether the officer now on administrative duty has previously had any behaviour reviewed or how long they have been a Mountie.
“At this time there are no charges and we are unable to release personal information or information that may identify the officer,” he said.
When asked who the other two men seen standing next to the man on the ground were, Curry said he did not know but could confirm they were not RCMP members.
Speaking broadly about when concerns are raised about police officers’ actions, Curry said “every community has an expectation to be policed fairly and appropriately.”
“We are involved in events that can become very dynamic and the public has a right to come forward with concerns about members and their conduct,” he said, noting there are a number of processes through which officers’ actions can be reviewed.
“(The public needs) to know that our members… they will be held accountable for the decisions that they make.”
Ahnassay said in general, when it comes to police being called about intoxicated people, he hopes officers understand the risks that can exist, especially when responding alone.
“Be patient, don’t react right away,” is what he believes is important to remember, he said. “Otherwise it can lead to escalation.”
Ahnassay said he believes situations can escalate if an intoxicated person frustrates an officer and tests their patience, and also if an intoxicated person acts irrationally or suddenly and comes across as a threat in some way.
“They need to wait for backup before they deal with the person,” he said.
Ahnassay, whose community is currently under a local state of emergency because of flooding, said it has been difficult to try to respond to the video while also dealing with the localized flooding. He learned of the videos through texts he received late Wednesday when he got back from a helicopter tour of the flooding.
He said RCMP emailed him Wednesday and then called him Thursday to let him know ASIRT is now investigating and to ask him to encourage people who may have additional video of what happened to come forward with it.
Ahnassay said he and other members of his council were in Grande Prairie last week to speak with senior RCMP officials about law enforcement in the region.
“We talked about the need to improve the relationship between RCMP and First Nations,” he said, adding that while the RCMP already has sensitivity training with regard to relationships Indigenous people, there was talk about an idea to try to incorporate more local context in that training.
He added that he believes it could be beneficial for people to be required to take university courses in policing prior to receiving their RCMP training in order to become a member.
“It would be really good if there were some additional changes introduced to requirements to become police,” Ahnassay said. “It would reassure the people they serve, not only in this area, but across Canada.”