Witnesses file excessive force complaint against Vancouver police over early morning arrest
VPD has recommended charges against a man accused of assaulting officers and attempting to steal their vehicle
Witnesses have filed a complaint against the Vancouver Police Department with the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner over an arrest Wednesday morning during which they allege officers used excessive force against a man who wasn't fighting back.
However, the Vancouver Police Department tells a different story.
It says a man was arrested after punching officers and attempting to steal a police cruiser. Police have recommended charges against the man who was originally stopped for a bylaw infraction.
Witness David Mattatall says he was walking home with friends shortly after midnight near East Sixth Avenue and Woodland Drive when they saw an unmarked police cruiser ram into a man on a bicycle they had been pursuing.
He claims police began to punch the man and throw him back and forth.
"I was in shock," said Mattatall, who added he couldn't believe the amount of force being used against the man.
CBC News spoke with another witness, Andrew Louzi, who gave a similar story.
But a statement from the Vancouver Police Department provides a different version of events.
Sgt. Aaron Roed says officers instructed the bicyclist, a 35-year-old man with no fixed address, to stop. He says they were ignored and the man tried to flee from the police.
After a struggle, Roed says, officers took the man into custody.
What the video shows
CBC News has reviewed three recordings of the incident in which officers can be seen struggling with the man.
"During the arrest of the accused male, he punched the officer in the face multiple times and jumped into the driver's seat of the police vehicle," said Roed. "The man tried to steal the police car."
Wattatall and Louzi say they never saw the man punch the officers and believe the man may have been forced into the police car by the officers as they struggled with him.
"Get out of the car, asshole," an officer can be heard yelling as he attempts to pull the man out. He then goes to the passenger side of the vehicle and begins punching him.
Watch | Police take down a man with what witnesses claim was excessive force:
At this point, the engine starts revving. Backup officers arrive on scene and Taser the man. He is dragged to the ground where several officers pin him down.
The officer who previously punched the man joins the group and begins to punch him multiple times in the head.
"I'm pro-police. Please help me. I can't breathe," the man is heard screaming. "Get off my neck. Get off my neck."
"Get off his neck," Mattatall shouts on video.
"I'm not on his neck," the officer shouts back.
The video shows the officer's right knee against the man's neck, as blood drips down his face.
At this point, Mattatall says a crowd gathered around the incident, with many calling for the officer to move his knee.
Charges recommended, say police
Following the arrest, Roed says Vancouver police have recommended a number of charges to Crown counsel including:
- Obstructing a peace officer x 2.
- Assaulting a peace officer.
- Theft of a motor vehicle.
- Flight from police.
Roed says officers are still investigating this incident but because it is now before the courts, the Vancouver Police Department will not be commenting further.
Sgt. Roed says he hasn't seen the video.
Mattatall says he tried to offer the videos to police officers on scene but they were not interested.
"My first impression was holy crap they are going to kill this guy," he said, adding the arrest has left him shaky and unable to sleep.
Louzi says it has hit him hard, as well.
"[I'm feeling] pretty awful," he said. "It's pretty eye-opening. I don't think that response to that man was warranted regardless of ... what he did."
The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner says it will be conducting an investigation into the conduct of the police officers involved.