Edmonton police union backs officers in epilepsy arrests

Edmonton’s police union is backing officers involved in the arrests of two men with epilepsy within one week.

‘He’s got to be held accountable’ union rep says of one man arrested after seizure

Neil Ryley said he took this photo of a black eye on his left side after he got out of jail on July 7, 2016. Police came to his home on June 30. (Supplied by Neil Ryley)

Edmonton's police union is backing officers involved in the arrests of two men with epilepsy within one week.

The men say they lashed out at officers as they were coming out of seizures. Confusion, hallucinations, defensiveness and violence are symptoms associated with some of the 44 known types of epileptic seizures.

They were separate cases with the same result: criminal charges for assaulting a police officer.

"It's unfortunate that this individual happened to have that seizure at that time and caused those injuries to our members," Bob Walsh, vice president of the Edmonton Police Association, said Tuesday.

"But he's got to be held accountable as well."

Walsh was talking about the circumstances of the second arrest, on June 30. Neil Ryley claims as many as six police officers entered his bedroom after his family called 911 for an ambulance after he had a seizure. Ryley said the officers beat him.

"Our members are going to use as much force as necessary to restrain and arrest," Walsh said about the photos Ryley took of bruises on his arms, legs, abdomen and face.
Another photo of bruising that Neil Ryley said he took after he was released from jail on July 7, 2016. This is a picture of an apparently boot-shaped bruise on his abdomen. (Supplied by Neil Ryley)

"I really can't say much on the photos. I see there's some bruising," the union representative said. "When you get five or six guys around, who knows what's going to happen?"

Police say Ryley head-butted one officer, breaking his nose. They also say he bit another officer.

In the other case, on June 24, police say a man with epilepsy put his hands around an officer's neck. Police Tasered him before arresting him.

Walsh said he does not believe officers should be expected to have the expertise of a doctor and the ability of identifying a medical condition in every case.

"Our members are often going in there blind so they don't know what they're really encountering," he said.

The head of the Edmonton Epilepsy Association said he thinks the two men's actions were unconscious and related to their medical conditions. The group is advocating that the charges in both cases be dropped.

Of the 11 years that Gary Sampley has been with the association, he remembers eight cases where people with epilepsy lashed out during or after seizures and were criminally charged.

In every case, he said, the charges were eventually dismissed. They were dropped before they went to court — except in the first incident.

"A stubborn Crown prosecutor would not drop the charges and it did go to court," Sampley said. "And the presiding judge publicly lambasted both the arresting constable and the Crown prosecutor."

Training video made for police

After that, his organization created a training video specifically for Edmonton police, to help them identify and deal with people experiencing epileptic seizures.

Sampley said he handed the video over to the police department in June 2008 and was assured it was uploaded to the internal police intranet for officers to view.

Walsh had not heard of the video.

Edmonton police spokesperson Cheryl Sheppard did not answer specific questions about whether the video was included in training new recruits or whether it was still available for officers to watch.

The department issued a statement that read: "Police officers are provided first-aid training, as well as other scenario-based training on how to deal with a variety of circumstances and situations.

"Police are primarily trained in law enforcement and do not typically diagnose or treat medical episodes. If a person exhibits aggressive behaviour that may cause harm to law enforcement, medical staff, or other by standards; the EPS' priority is focused on protecting the safety of themselves and others."