Edmonton man says police used knee-on-neck restraint on him during 2018 arrest

Seeing the video of George Floyd being restrained by a police officer brought back bad memories for Jean-Claude Rukundo.

Police say officer was disciplined for using profanity during 2018 arrest

Police officer uses knee-on-neck restraint on Edmonton man

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

Seeing George Floyd die after being pinned under the knee of a police officer brought back bad memories for Jean-Claude Rukundo.

The Edmonton man is speaking out after his wife recently posted a video of his own arrest in July 2018.

The 14-second recording shows Rukundo face down and pinned to the ground by two officers as he is being handcuffed.

In the recording, the words "f--king Taser" can be heard, before one police officer drops his knee on the back of Rukundo's neck. 

"I couldn't even breathe," recalled Rukundo in an interview Wednesday, as his wife, Sifa Ngeze, stood by his side, both wearing matching Black Lives Matter T-shirts.

"I even mentioned on the video 'I can't breathe.' You can see it. He used force and he used force in his knee to drop on my neck.

"That day, I feared for my life. I was worried for my kids. I'm the only one bringing in the money for them."
Sifa Ngeze and Jean-Claude Rukundo say there was no reason for the arrest in 2018. (Peter Evans/CBC)

The recording surfaced Tuesday, just hours after Edmonton Police Chief Dale McFee called for accountability in the death of Floyd and expressed solidarity with Edmonton's black community.

In a statement, police said they only restrained Rukundo when he refused to move away from the scene of a collision Ngeze was involved in, and the officer was disciplined for using profanity.

But the couple said events unfolded much differently than that.

'He escalated everything'

In July 2018, while driving to a Superstore, Ngeze hit another vehicle. After calling 911, she phoned her husband, who arrived to help.

The couple said everyone was speaking peacefully and Rukundo was doing nothing wrong, but one officer appeared angry. They said he 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."

Rukundo said he was taken to the station and charged with obstructing a peace officer and resisting arrest. Worried Rukundo would go to jail, the couple, who have five children, said they spent $5,000 to successfully fight the charges and have been struggling financially ever since.

WATCH | Edmonton police officer used knee-on-neck restraint on black man in 2018:

Knee-on-neck restraint used by Canadian police officers

2 years ago
Duration 2:16
Video footage of an arrest in Edmonton, Alta. shows that knee-on-neck restraint is still used by some police officers in Canada. Some forces say it’s not allowed, and there are growing calls for the practice to stop.

Officer was pushed, police say

Police say Rukundo was asked to leave the scene multiple times, and when he refused, a second officer tried leading him away.

"The male pushed one of the police officers, and assumed an aggressive stance," wrote Edmonton Police Service spokesperson Patrycja Mokrzan in an emailed statement.

"The officers present determined the male was arrestable. While attempting to arrest the male he continued to struggle which resulted in the officers taking him to the ground."

Mokrzan said the outcome of the investigation by the professional standards branch that wrapped up in 2019 was communicated to the complainant. EPS did not say if police charged Rukundo.

Training doesn't target neck

Former Moose Jaw police chief Terry Coleman said the response by Edmonton police was disturbing and unnecessary. Describing it as high-risk, he said police can put a knee on a shoulder or shoulder blade if further restraint is needed.

"You don't need to put it on their neck," said Coleman. "And you don't need to constrict their breathing or their blood flow at all."

Mokrzan said officers are not trained to specifically target the subject's neck or head with a knee to hold them in place, but rather the back or chest area. 

"The dynamics of each situation need to be considered, and there is a possibility for a trained technique to be misapplied when a subject is resisting," Mokrzan wrote.

The couple said the outcome of the investigation makes them feel like they have no voice.

"Police are not supposed to be there to hurt you, they're supposed to protect you," Ngeze said.

They believe that if they were white, they would have been treated differently. The couple, originally from the Republic of Burundi, hope by speaking out, their children won't be exposed to similar violence. 

"We're not violent. We ran from violence," Rukondo said. "We're just trying to live,

"I'm not a gangster. I'm a father. I'm just trying to make a change so it won't happen to my kids."

With files from Raffy Boudjikanian