Edmonton

Edmonton police continue to defend officer using knee-on-neck restraint in 2018 arrest

The Edmonton Police Service continued Thursday to defend a July 2018 arrest in which an officer used his knee to pin a black man's neck to the ground.

Video of arrest shows EPS officer pinning Jean-Claude Rukundo's neck to ground

Video of the July 2018 arrest of Jean-Claude Rukundo, captured by his wife, shows an Edmonton police officer pinning Rukundo's neck to the ground with a knee. (Sifa Ngeze )

The Edmonton Police Service continued Thursday to defend a July 2018 arrest in which an officer used his knee to pin a black man's neck to the ground.

Two videos of the arrest led police to conclude the restraint was used for a maximum of 40 seconds before the officer subsequently adjusted his positioning.

"In evaluating both portions of the video as one entire video event, what we believe to have occurred is that the positioning of the leg across the subject's head was not any longer than about 40 seconds," Staff Sgt. Terry Langley of the EPS training unit said at a news conference.

Langley, who trains officers on proper use of force, did not elaborate on how Edmonton police came to determine the officer used the knee-on-neck restraint for that length of time.

Initially, the police service said it would not make anyone available to answer questions about the arrest of Jean-Claude Rukundo, but that changed after news outlets ran stories about the arrest.

Video shows an Edmonton police officer using his knee to restrain Jean-Claude Rukundo during an arrest in 2018. 0:11

Rukundo's wife Sifa Ngeze posted a 14-second video to social media showing Rukundo face down and pinned to the ground by two officers as he is being handcuffed.

"I couldn't even breathe," Rukundo told CBC News on Wednesday. "That day, I feared for my life. I was worried for my kids. I'm the only one bringing in the money for them."

While Langley said he could not comment on some specifics of the arrest, he said EPS officers are not trained to target a person's neck or head when restraining them.

Sometimes there are "misapplications of the techniques or the tactics," he said.

But officers are constantly assessing whether their use of force is appropriate, he said.

"When someone is laying prone on their front, that target area is the back area, kind of around the shoulder blade area, if you will, and on the top side of the shoulder," Langley said.

"What the video doesn't show well, I don't think, is that at some point, there was an assessment being made by that officer that he was in the wrong area. And the [second] video that we have viewed shows that officer now adjusting his leg to a more proper positioning." 

Depending on each individual scenario, if the person being arrested is more "assaultive," a police officer may decide that it is reasonably necessary to "target other areas that may include the head and the neck, depending on the level of threat they present," Langley said.

A second, 31-second video of the arrest, taken from another angle and posted to social media Wednesday, shows the officer with his knee on Jean-Claude Rukundo's back. 0:31

A second, 31-second video of the arrest, taken from another angle and posted to social media Wednesday, shows the officer with his knee on Rukundo's back. An EPS spokesperson confirmed it is the video Langley referenced. Rukundo's sister shared the video with CBC News.

In the video, Rukundo yells at the officer to "stop putting pressure on me." He says he did not do anything wrong, that he has a bad back, and that the officer is hurting him.

"I'm not trying to fight you," he says.

The officer yells at Rukundo to stop trying to roll over onto his back, which Rukundo denies doing.

Ngeze's video of Rukundo's arrest surfaced Tuesday, just hours after Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee called for accountability in the death of George Floyd, a black U.S. man who died last week, gasping for breath, after a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes.

In a brief statement Tuesday, an EPS spokesperson said the officers only restrained Rukundo when he refused to leave the scene of a vehicle collision Ngeze was involved in. At one point, the spokesperson said, a second officer tried leading him away.

"The male pushed one of the police officers, and assumed an aggressive stance," Patrycja Mokrzan said.

Charges withdrawn

Rukundo was charged with assault of a peace officer and obstruction, Mokrzan said Thursday.

Alberta Justice confirmed two charges against Rukundo — for allegedly resisting and obstructing Const. Pierre Lemire— were dropped in February 2019.

Sifa Ngeze and Jean-Claude Rukundo say there was no reason for the arrest and that one of the police officers "escalated" the situation. (Peter Evans/CBC)

Rukundo and Ngeze told CBC News the incident began following a collision. After hitting another vehicle, Ngeze called 911 and then her husband, who arrived to help.

Everyone was speaking peacefully when one officer told Rukundo, who was on the phone with the insurance company, that he had to leave the scene or he would be arrested. 

"[The officer] escalated everything," Rukundo said. "He raised his voice. He treated me like I'm not a human being."

Fighting the charges cost the couple $5,000 and they have been struggling financially ever since.

The couple said they believe that if they were white, the  officers would have treated them differently.

After receiving a complaint about the arrest, the Professional Standards Branch investigated, Mokrzan said, which led to one officer being disciplined for using profanity.

Edmonton Police Service Staff Sgt. Terry Langley speaks about the use of force. 1:37

The RCMP told CBC News it does not allow the knee-on-neck restraint.

Terry Coleman, a former Moose Jaw police chief, said Wednesday such a restraint is high-risk.

Langley said he generally agrees.

"It is very high-risk, it is not something that we train for, it is not something, obviously, that they train — and for good reason," he said.

With files from Raffy Boudjikanian and Andrea Huncar

About the Author

Jennie Russell

Investigative reporter

Jennie Russell is a reporter with CBC Investigates, the award-winning investigative unit of CBC Edmonton. Jennie specializes in accountability journalism and her work has been widely credited with forcing transparency and democratic change in Alberta. Contact Jennie at jennie.russell@cbc.ca and follow her on Twitter @jennierussell_.

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