Edmonton man sues police for 'false arrest' he says put him in a coma

An Edmonton man has filed a $550,000 lawsuit accusing police of a near-deadly head injury during an unjustified arrest in 2018 but police say they were checking on his welfare.

Police say they transported Colin Nicholson to hospital in 2018 after conducting a welfare check

Colin Nicholson says he was left outside the hospital in October 2018 with 'significant internal brain bleeding.' (Colin Nicholson)

Colin Nicholson says he still doesn't know why police showed up at his door that day.

"They dragged me outside and next thing I knew, I woke up, I was in Misericordia hospital, and it was two days later," Nicholson told CBC News. "They had no explanation why they were at the door."

The events of Oct. 15, 2018 — which include allegations of a near-deadly head injury during a "false arrest" — are now grounds for a lawsuit against three unknown Edmonton officers, and current and former police chiefs Dale McFee and Rod Knecht. 

The allegations are contained in a statement of claim filed Oct. 8 by Nicholson's lawyer, Avnish Nanda. 

Edmonton police said they responded to a request to check on Nicholson's welfare, recognized he was in a state of personal crisis and transported him to hospital.

'Blood on the window'

In an interview, Nicholson said he was reading the newspaper in the living room and his wife was in their bedroom when three police officers showed up unannounced.

They wanted to come in but Nicholson refused, he said. He opened the door to find out why they were there.

"Next thing you know, they grabbed my arm and yanked me out," he said.

Nicholson said he was shoved back and forth between the officers, then pushed down the front steps onto the ground, handcuffed and led to a police SUV.

As he was getting in, one of the officers smashed his head on the door frame of the vehicle, Nicholson said.

On the drive to the hospital, he drifted in and out of consciousness, he said.

"I realized that I was bleeding pretty badly because, when I shook my head, there was blood on the window of the vehicle," Nicholson said. "Then we arrived at Misericordia hospital, he told me to get out, and I was having trouble doing that. He grabbed my arm and pulled me. I went on the ground, and that's the last I remember."

'Nearly died'

According to the lawsuit, the officers left after dropping off Nicholson outside the hospital. He doesn't know how he made it inside from the parking lot. Nicholson said he spent roughly 48 hours in a coma before coming to and asking a nurse to call and tell his family what had happened.

To ensure patient confidentiality, Covenant Health, which oversees the Misericordia, said it could not provide information about a specific case.

"Nicholson arrived at the hospital with significant internal brain bleeding caused by John Doe #1 or John Doe #2 smashing his head into the door frame of the rear passenger door of the police vehicle," the lawsuit says.

"Nicholson nearly died from the incident."

Nicholson was not charged and, apart from an impaired driving conviction in 2008, does not have a criminal record.
Colin Nicholson spoke to CBC outside police headquarters on Wednesday. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

Police say officers responded to a request to check on Nicholson's welfare. 

"Upon arrival, officers immediately recognized that Mr. Nicholson was in a state of personal crisis and transported him to hospital so that he could receive the help he needed," EPS spokesperson Cheryl Voordenhout wrote in an email to CBC News.

PTSD, fear of police

Two years later, the journeyman carpenter who used to manage large teams of workers for major construction projects can't do math in his head and struggles to spell and write, the lawsuit says.

Nicholson also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and associated anger, and fears being alone in public or that "police may show up at his home and try to kill him again," it says.

The lawsuit, which accuses police of "false arrest and imprisonment" and taking Nicholson into custody "against his will and without proper legal justification," seeks $550,000 in damages.

The allegations have not been proven in court and a statement of defence has not been filed.

Days after the incident, Nicholson said his daughter was told by police that officers came to the house to conduct a welfare check.

Nicholson did not file a formal complaint with police.

"I was worried that they were going to retaliate if I complained because I heard some pretty bad things about them," he said.