Thursday, October 15, 2009

Was excessive force used in arrest of University of Western Ontario student?

The following video posted on YouTube shows a 22-year-old fourth year University of Western Ontario being arrested yesterday in the late afternoon for mischief, resist arrest, assault and escape police custody. Click here to watch the video.

According to the London Free Press article posted above:

"The video, shot by an unknown student, shows the suspect being kneed at least five times, struck with a telescopic baton at least six times and punched by one officer at least 27 times. The one minute, 32-second video shows four officers trying to subdue the suspect, who appears to be resisting and not complying with an officer’s demand to “stop resisting . . . give us your arms . . . stop resisting.” Thirty seconds into the video, two other officers arrive and join the others in trying to put the suspect in handcuffs. The suspect does appear to be resisting at times and police keep asking him to give them his arms."

The University issued a statement explaining the circumstances surrounding the student's arrest. Click here to read statement. According to the statement:

"The incident began shortly after 5 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 14 when campus police were contacted by a student in the Social Sciences building who reported being followed by another student acting in a strange manner. A short time later, campus police received calls regarding a disoriented and threatening individual who had appeared on two different floors attempting to enter offices.

On the 8th floor, the suspect entered an office and attempted to force the occupant to leave. Being unsuccessful, the suspect left and subsequently barricaded himself in a 7th floor office. London Police were called. Two campus officers arrived on the scene and the suspect came out of the barricaded office and charged the officers in a violent manner. Other persons on the floor fled for their own safety and some locked themselves in their own offices. A third officer arrived and the three officers attempted to subdue the suspect, but he was able to break away from officers and fled.

On the main floor the suspect was stopped by a campus police officer and a confrontation took place as the suspect attempted to flee. London Police officers arrived on the scene to assist campus police and tried to subdue the suspect, who continued to fight violently and would not allow himself to be handcuffed. After numerous loud requests to the suspect to stop resisting, officers used punches and strikes to the suspect’s arms to apply handcuffs.

The suspect was eventually subdued and as he was being led outside, he began to fight once again. He was further restrained by officers. An ambulance arrived at this time. Paramedics had been called because officers felt the behaviour exhibited by the individual indicated he should be assessed at hospital. The resistance continued after the individual was transported to hospital. He was released into police custody at 3 a.m., Oct. 15. Police charged a 22-year-old fourth-year Social Sciences student with mischief, resisting arrest, assault, and escaping custody. He was described as 6 feet, 230 pounds. No weapon was believed involved."

Do you think that the force was excessive? Given that he was unarmed and not able to get off the ground, is it relevant what happened before he was taken to the ground in assessing the reasonableness of the force used? Is an individual truly resisting when they try to protect themselves from repeated blows from a baton, fist, knee?


  1. This is just STUPID. Clearly, the officers were reasonable in their use of force. They told him what they wanted him to do ie stop resisting, give us your arms...if he actually stopped resisting and gave up control of his arms, they would likely stop hitting him!

  2. From my perspective, it is troubling that your post (minus the gratuitous "Stupid" reference) represents the "official" response from the University. In other words, the simple justification is that "If he had just stopped resisting, he wouldn't have been violently assaulted."

    First, it is not even clear that he was resisting. It is only a natural physical response for the body to respond to being violently assaulted. This was not a case of one or two blows or him being held down. He was hit more than three dozen times.

    Second, it should have been obvious to the officers that this was likely someone suffering from some sort of breakdown. One of the lessons of this case is the importance of training for both city and campus police in dealing with mentally ill individuals.

    Third, you seem to equate reasonable simply with the failure to comply (assuming he was mentally and physically able to comply as discussed above). Surely, not all force would be reasonable in order to obtain compliance to, in this case, put your arms together. On your view of reasonableness, the taser would have been appropriate.

    Finally, it is worth observing that, in Canada, all individuals have the legal right to resist an unlawful arrest; unconstitutional police conduct; or, unreasonable use of force during an arrest. It is disappointing that this often gets lost in discussions of police violence during arrests. In other words, if the force was excessive in this case, he had a right to resist.

    This point is made in a Supreme Court of Canada case called R. v. Golden dealing with a brutal strip search in a Subway restaurant in downtown Toronto. In that case, the Crown argued that had Golden simply stopped resisting, the police would not have had to hold him down and use gloves from the restaurant washroom to search him.

    Justice Iacobucci and Arbour, for the majority, held:

    "We particularly disagree with the suggestion that an arrested person’s noncooperation and resistance necessarily entitles police to engage in behaviour that disregards or compromises his or her physical and psychological integrity and safety. If the general approach articulated in this case is not followed, such that the search is unreasonable, there is no requirement that anyone cooperate with the violation of his
    or her Charter rights. Any application of force or violence must be both necessary and proportional in the specific circumstances.

    In this case, the appellant’s refusal to relinquish the evidence does not justify or mitigate the fact that he was strip searched
    in a public place, and in a manner that showed considerable disregard for his dignity and his physical integrity, despite the absence of reasonable and probable grounds or exigent circumstances."