At about 2:15am on August 23, 2009 on the 2200-block of West Broadway in Vancouver, a surveillance camera captured the images of a police officer charging towards a civilian standing peacefully outside a bar and striking him onto the pavement with full force.
The civilian was 26-year-old Justin Wachtel. The officer was 20-year police veteran Sergeant Darcy Taylor of the Vancouver Police Department.
Wachtel’s lawyer, Jason Tarnow, with permission from his client, released the surveillance footage to media because his client felt that the incident “had been misinterpreted” at a police conference earlier in January. (Vancouver Sun, Jan.6/10)
Police said they were responding to a 911 call about a fight in progress and that the sergeant called for “Code 3 emergency cover” which prompted more officers to arrive on the scene. However, the surveillance footage does not show any fight in progress as explained by police.
Sarah Penman, a former employee of the bar, witnessed the incident that left her so distressed that she left her job the next day. Penman told another newspaper that “[t]he cop (Taylor) was telling Justin, ‘What are you going to do now? Hit me. Hit me.’” The former bar employee said that the incident has shaken her faith in the police and added that “the other cops who arrived were shocked, too.” (The Province, Jan. 6, 2010)
The Crown has charged Taylor with one count of assault with a weapon.
But Tarnow says that “it took too long to lay charges in the incident” (The Globe and Mail, Jan. 7/10), asking “why it took four months for charges to be laid when the evidence is so clearcut.” (Vancouver Sun) “If you or I had a stick in our face by anyone other than an officer it would result in charges instantly. It’s the boys protecting themselves,” said Tarnow. (Vancouver Sun)
This case is now being dealt with in court and has raised substantial public concern over police conduct (abuse of power) and public well-being.
Surveillance cameras are supposed to catch would-be criminals in the act for prosecution purposes. Now it seems they serve another important purpose: helping ensure police accountability.
Posted by Agnes Tong (Law II)