British Columbia·Exclusive

Rob Wright jail cell takedown renews calls for investigation

Two years after Rob Wright was slammed to the floor by an RCMP officer in a Terrace jail cell, video of the incident has drawn outrage and renewed calls for an investigation.

B.C. Civil Liberties Association and Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs react with outrage over video

Rob Wright claims he suffered permanent brain injury after his treatment in police custody 2:38

Two years after Rob Wright was taken to the floor by an RCMP officer in a Terrace, B.C., jail cell, video of the incident has drawn outrage and renewed calls for an investigation.

"This is shocking,” said Josh Paterson of the BC Civil Liberties Association.

“It appears on the video that this brutal takedown was an excessive use of force. Mr. Wright was kneeling on a bench, cuffed, and posing no apparent threat at the time that a constable smashed him to the floor, breaking his head open and leaving a pool of blood.”

Wright is suing the arresting officer, Const. Brian Heideman. In the lawsuit, Wright alleges the officer was on steroids at the time—allegations that are not proven and to which Heideman has not yet responded.

In the video, Heideman and two other officers escort Wright into a cell. Wright is clearly combative, yelling and swearing.

The video shows Wright being thrown to the ground. Wright's head hits a hard surface, with an impact that allegedly caused irreversible brain injury.

He was later sent from RCMP custody by air ambulance to New Westminster for emergency surgery. 

“Rob's trip to the cells was a life sentence to a permanent and debilitating brain injury," said Paterson. "We hope that the family's lawsuit will get to the bottom of why this happened, and that it will bring some measure of justice to the Wright-Prisk family."

Police deny responsibility for injuries

Police allege in court documents that there was no wrongdoing and that Wright’s injuries were not caused by RCMP members, but are "attributable to previous and/or subsequent incidents, or congenital defects or pre-existing conditions."

Both the BC Civil Liberties Association and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs have called for the appointment of a special prosecutor. 

“I could not imagine a scenario that would justify the cruel use of force against Robert Wright,” said Grand Chief Stewart Philip, the president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.

B.C. Justice Minister Suzanne Anton was aware of the video, but had not yet viewed it.

Anton couldn't say whether a special prosecutor would be appointed to deal with questions around how Wright was handled in Terrace RCMP cells. 

A special prosecutor would be able to look at whether criminal charges are warranted.

Two years ago, an independent investigation by the New Westminster police recommended charges against one officer, but the regional prosecutor did not approve the charges, based on the findings of a use-of-force expert who concluded that reasonable force was used.  

At the time, both the BC Civil Liberties Association and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs called for the release of the jail cell video that has only now been made public.

With files from the CBC's Eric Rankin

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