Edmonton police officers investigated for use of force in pair of arrests
Prosecutors drop charge against man who recorded arrest
Jamie-Dean Sauter dropped by a downtown Edmonton Circle K convenience store one day in May to buy a cold drink and some breath mints.
It turned out to be one of the worst decisions he ever made.
While he was standing at the drink machine, six police officers rushed into the store and headed straight for him.
"The officers seemed agitated and angry, and I heard them just yell out, 'That's him,'" he said.
Sauter has filed a formal complaint with the Edmonton Police Service professional standards branch over the way he was treated.
A bystander who recorded Sauter's arrest on his phone was in turn arrested and charged with obstructing a police officer.
But on Wednesday, after CBC published this story, Crown prosecutors stayed the charged against the man, who has also filed a formal complaint against police.
Sauter, 37, said one officer grabbed his arm and told him he was under arrest for possession of a stolen vehicle. He insisted that was impossible, and told them to check his identification, vehicle registration and insurance.
Instead he was slammed to the floor.
"Several officers began to pile up on me," Sauter told CBC News. "They began to grab my hands and placed them into handcuffs."
He said he was kneed in the side as police grabbed his feet to hogtie him, and was punched in the face.
Another customer, Joshua Powell, captured video of the incident on his cellphone.
"I had kind of a bad feeling in general that maybe this guy is in the wrong place at the wrong time," Powell said. "He sounded innocent to me, so I just naturally took out my phone and started recording."
On the video, Sauter is heard angrily saying, "You punched me in the face. You just punched me in the face."
He said the attack continued as another officer removed his hat, grabbed the back of his hair and slammed his head four times against the floor. After that, an officer placed his boot on Sauter's cheek.
"He took his boot and proceeded to wipe the bottom of his boot over my face," Sauter said. "It was very slow and deliberate. It was the most humiliating, disgusting thing.
"The takedown and everything was one thing," Sauter tearfully recalled. "But it felt like he was making me aware I was less than dirt under his boot. I wasn't even human."
In his written statement to the professional standards branch, Sauter self-identified as being of Black/Indigenous/Latin/European/East Asian descent and an ally of the LGBTQ community.
I remember crying out 'I can't breathe.'- Jamie-Dean Sauter
"It appeared to me that being identified as a person of colour was the determining factor in how this arrest was conducted," Sauter wrote in his complaint.
Sauter said a bag was placed over his head, and he panicked when it was held tightly against his nose and mouth.
"I remember crying out, 'I can't breathe,' " Sauter said.
The Circle K incident happened on May 14, 11 days before George Floyd uttered those same words in Minneapolis as a police officer pressed his knee into Floyd's neck.
"I remember several people in the store saying stop it, you're going to kill him," Sauter said. "I was hogtied. A bag was over my head. Then they proceeded to lift me up and carry me out of the store."
'All I can remember is multiple officers swarming'
Powell, 24, kept moving around the store as it appeared officers were trying to block his shot. They warned him to stay back and he complied.
After Sauter complained about being punched in the face, Powell said on tape, "That was a bit excessive, as an outside perspective."
In hindsight, Powell thinks the police were offended by his criticism and decided to teach him a lesson. He said one officer approached him and said, "When they tell you to stay back, you stay back."
The officer then tried to grab his phone as Powell was being pushed up against the drink machine.
"My hoodie gets ripped over my head, and all I can remember is multiple officers swarming," Powell said. "It's almost like they came from him to deal with me, you know?"
On the video Powell said, "What are you doing to me?" as the screen went black.
Powell was later charged with obstruction of justice. Crown prosecutors dropped the charge Wednesday.
Powell's girlfriend was sitting outside the Circle K store in a vehicle and saw him being carried out of the store.
"My boyfriend was handcuffed, his sweater was pulled off his body, pants were falling off," Taylor Bishop wrote in a statement. "Around the same time that this was all taking effect, I witnessed another man being taken out of the Circle K by roughly six police officers."
She said the man's hands were handcuffed to his feet behind his back and they carried him out like a grocery bag. Bishop watched the officers throw him to the ground as he kept screaming in pain.
"I could hear the fear in his voice," Bishop wrote.
'I had kind of a mental breakdown'
Sauter was placed into the back of a police van with the hood still over his head. He said he lost consciousness.
At the downtown police station, the restraints were removed and he was allowed to remove the hood. Sauter was allowed to make a phone call. He reached his brother, who is an EPS detective.
He said his brother was shocked and later apologized for the treatment he had been subjected to.
Sauter said he spent the next three hours praying while he was alone in a holding cell. He also said prayers for another prisoner he could hear begging for help down the hallway. That prisoner was Joshua Powell.
"I was honestly traumatized," Powell said. "In the holding cell, I had kind of a mental breakdown. I was knocking on the door every five minutes asking what's going on."
After a few hours, Powell was released.
Before the charge against Powell was stayed on Wednesday, his lawyer called it false and malicious.
"I can't imagine a Crown prosecutor taking this to trial," Tom Engel said. "It might sound surprising to say this, but the police officers kidnapped him and unlawfully confined him. Those are serious criminal offences."
Engel also questioned the size of the police response that night.
"If you can amass 15 or so officers to deal with what was allegedly a stolen licence plate, there's obviously too much money in the EPS budget," he said.
On Wednesday, Edmonton police issued a statement saying both arrests are under investigation.
"On May 20, 2020, one of the individuals who was arrested lodged a complaint with the professional standards branch, which then commenced an investigation," the EPS statement said. "Stemming from this, on June 11, 2020, a second investigation was initiated related to the other arrest.
"The investigations into this incident remain in their early stages while EPS awaits further information from the legal counsel of the complainants.
All eight officers who were present at the arrests are subject to the internal investigation, the statement said.
"At this time, it is too early to determine any changes to the duty status of the officers. As per standard procedure, duty status is evaluated on an ongoing basis as the investigation unfolds.
"Both complainants will receive regular updates on the status of the investigation, and will be provided with the outcome."
Powell said the experience has changed his opinion of police.
"I just really don't feel comfortable in their presence anymore," he said. "Now I'm thinking if I call the police for a general issue and they show up, will I become the victim again?"
Powell's girlfriend thinks the incident has irrevocably impacted him.
"Joshua still has troubles sleeping at night," Bishop wrote. "He will never fully recover from this."
Call for 'sadistic' officers to be disciplined
Sauter said he has a curved spine as a result of the Circle K arrest. He suffers from migraines and is being monitored for signs of brain trauma, nerve damage and post-traumatic stress disorder.
He was never criminally charged. Police determined his licence plate had been stolen and replaced with one from a stolen vehicle.
Sauter called the officers who arrested him "sadistic" and now believes body cameras should be standard issue.
"They've brought shame and a stain on EPS and the city of Edmonton," he said. "I would like to see these officers publicly held accountable. I would like to see real disciplinary action happen."
Sauter said he decided to go public with his story after he found out a stranger had recorded his arrest.
"He's nothing short of a hero," Sauter said. "It took incredible courage and resiliency of character to do what he did. I can't thank him enough."