Police officers who handcuffed Indigenous man, granddaughter outside bank ordered suspended for misconduct
Disciplinary decision orders Vancouver officers to apologize for 2019 arrest of Maxwell Johnson, 12-year-old
Two police officers who handcuffed an Indigenous man and his 12-year-old granddaughter outside a Bank of Montreal branch in downtown Vancouver more than two years ago have been ordered suspended and ordered to apologize for their "serious, blameworthy" misconduct.
A disciplinary decision posted online Wednesday said both Vancouver police officers committed misconduct when they handcuffed Maxwell Johnson, then 56, and his granddaughter outside the bank in December 2019.
"I have found that both [officers] acted oppressively in their dealings with Mr. Johnson and his granddaughter. The officers' actions in arresting and handcuffing the parties was undertaken without reasonable and probable grounds," wrote Brian Neal, a retired provincial court judge appointed to the case by the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (OPCC).
"Two vulnerable persons of Indigenous heritage were exposed to unnecessary trauma and fear, and left with a serious perception of unfairness in their treatment at the hands of police."
Johnson, a member of the Heiltsuk Nation, had been trying to open an account for his granddaughter. The pair used government-issued Indian Status cards, his birth certificate and her medical card as identification, but an employee became suspicious and phoned 911.
Constables Mitchel Tong and Canon Wong arrived and handcuffed Johnson and his granddaughter outside the bank on a busy downtown street. Both were released within the hour.
Neal found the officers each committed two counts of abuse of authority by "recklessly arresting the complainants and by using unnecessary force by applying handcuffs."
In an interview Wednesday, Johnson said the ruling came as a shock.
"I was surprised by the decision and also happy that we are moving forward with it ... we are finally getting somewhere," said Johnson, speaking from his home via Zoom.
"It's been two years and it has been really hard on us physically and mentally — I can't wait for this to be all over and done with and hopefully people learn something from this."
Heiltsuk Nation invites officers for apology ceremony
Neal ordered that Tong and Wong be suspended. The OPCC said it could not confirm the length of the suspensions due to privacy, but the nation said the officers would be off work for "several days."
The officers must also take retraining and issue an official apology.
The Heiltsuk Nation has invited Tong and Wong to their territory for an official apology ceremony with Johnson, his granddaughter and the community.
"This story has become a symbol of the fight against systemic racism, and we are committed to working with the officers to make broader change and ensure this never happens again," Marilyn Slett, elected chief of the Heiltsuk Nation, wrote in a statement Wednesday.
Neal made his disciplinary decision in January and imposed the penalties in mid-March. Both officers have 20 business days from the date of the penalties to request a review of the decision "if they are dissatisfied" with the findings before the OPCC officially closes the file, according to a statement.
Last October, the Vancouver Police Department changed its handcuffing policy.
With files from Angela Sterritt