Calgary man hopes for a better future after his own violent arrest
‘There’s change coming for sure. It’s about time,’ he says
The first time Calgary police showed up that night, Godfred Addai-Nyamekye was put in their vehicle and driven to a desolate construction site. He was dropped off in –18 C weather, –28 C with the wind chill, without a coat, hat or gloves. Freezing, Addai-Nyamekye called 911 for help.
The second time police showed up, it got worse. Helicopter footage shows Addai-Nyamekye handcuffed and lying in the snow, receiving punches and blows to his head and body.
The documentary Above the Law explores the 2013 events of Addai-Nyamekye's case — not as an isolated incident involving the Calgary police, but as evidence of a potential pattern of behaviour.
In 2015, Anthony Heffernan was unarmed and alone when five officers entered his hotel room to perform a wellness check; he was shot four times and killed. In the same year, Daniel Haworth was assaulted by a police officer while handcuffed, resulting in a fractured skull and brain bleed. The same officer was involved in both Addai-Nyamekye and Haworth's incidents.
The three cases paint an unsettling portrait of the Calgary Police Service. Above the Law takes a hard look at whether the broader justice system — trusted to uphold laws and preserve the dignity of life — is doing its job.
'Checks and balances — none of them worked'
When you ask Addai-Nyamekye about his dog, Sheeba, he immediately lights up. "Oh man, don't get me started," he says. "She's amazing. She's a sweetheart."
Addai-Nyamekye spends a lot of time at home, so a friend gave Sheeba to him.
"I needed a friend, so I took Sheeba and that was it," he says. "She's always there. When I'm stressed out, she always comes and tries to let me know it's OK. She's amazing. I wouldn't trade her for anything."
Addai-Nyamekye has been living with chronic pain and psychological trauma since his interactions with the Calgary police in December 2013. After the incident, Addai-Nyamekye was charged with assaulting an officer and acquitted by a judge a year and a half later.
Tom Engel, Addai-Nyamekye's lawyer, says prosecutors should have never charged his client in the first place.
"It was a travesty that he was ever arrested, ever charged," Engel says in the documentary. "There's a failure there. These checks and balances — none of them worked."
Protesting police brutality around the world
After the death of George Floyd, Addai-Nyamekye watched the video and felt distraught. But when protests erupted in U.S. cities and then spread around the world, he felt hope.
"When I saw the protests, I was like, 'It's about time,'" Addai-Nyamekye says. "We've got to get past this racism and police brutality. It's not just one race; it's everybody coming together, one people, [to say,] 'This is not right. We need a change.'"
Friends referred him to an opportunity to speak during a Black Lives Matter protest in front of Calgary City Hall. On June 6, Addai-Nyamekye got up on stage to tell his story.
"There were a lot of emotions," he says. "I was having PTSD because there were cops everywhere. I didn't even think about what I was going to say. I just went up there."
"We have to pay attention because it happens out here, too — it's not just the U.S. I think people have to hear that. People need to feel our pain."
Waiting for justice
Five years after Heffernan was shot to death, a provincial inquiry has yet to be scheduled. The Heffernan family's civil lawsuit against the police is expected to drag on for years to come, just like Addai-Nyamekye's.
Irene and Patrick Heffernan have waited for the justice system to answer the question: Did their son need to die?
"I often wonder how they all sleep at night … maybe just fine," Irene Heffernan says in the documentary. "We don't."
"Just another day in the life of the Calgary police," Patrick Heffernan adds. "Another one dead and another one buried, and let's forget about it."
Addai-Nyamekye struggled to navigate the justice system after he was acquitted. Offering his video and transcripts, he contacted five or six lawyers in Calgary to file a lawsuit — but none of them took the case. He believes those lawyers didn't want a long, drawn-out legal battle with the city and police.
His defence counsel then referred him to Engel, an Edmonton-based lawyer. "It's amazing how he didn't even think twice about it," Addai-Nyamekye says. "It was a miracle."
Hoping for a brighter future
For the future, Addai-Nyamekye wants justice for himself and reform for the system. He talks about the idea of having a restaurant one day and going fishing more often — he enjoys solitude in nature. He wants to get better so that his lingering ailments don't hold him back from living a normal life.
Ultimately, Addai-Nyamekye is hopeful.
"God knows how many other [cases] are out there when it wasn't caught on tape," he says. "I'm hoping in the future there will be changes. We have to move forward. We have to move past this. There's change coming for sure. It's about time."
Watch Above the Law.