Hamilton

From victim to victor: Markland family settles with police after cops raid wrong home

When people type the names of Pamela Markland's kids into Google, they get two words: "raid victims." Now, the Hamilton mom wants a new word to show up: "victor."

'I had to fight because I couldn't let it go down like that'

Faith, Pamela and Deasha Markland have received a settlement after Hamilton and Toronto police after officers threw a flash grenade in their home and entered with rifles. The officers had the wrong house. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

When people type the names of Pamela Markland's kids into Google, they get two words: "raid victims." Now the Hamilton mom wants a new word to show up: "victor."

Markland has reached a settlement with Hamilton and Toronto police related to an erroneous raid on her home eight years ago. Her family is still traumatized, she said, and she lives in constant fear of it happening again. But she's ready to move forward.

"I want [people] to know now, if there's a new story, that we're not victims," said Markland, whose two daughters stood by with signs that said "Victory" and "Unbreakable."

"We're just a family that wants to feel respected, and to feel safe."

The raid happened on Dec. 13, 2011. It was 5 a.m., and Markland and five of her kids were asleep.

'When people Google my children’s names, that’s what they see. 'Raid victims,'" says Pamela Markland with Faith and Deasha. Now "there’s a new story." (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Police threw a flash grenade into the living room and filled the house with smoke. Markland recalls hearing what sounded like a stampede of elephants. Then officers appeared in masks and helmets, says her lawyer, Davin Charney.

The officers brandished shields and pointed semi-automatic rifles, and one of the kids was arrested at gunpoint. Then they brought Markland and her children into the living room and handcuffed three of them.

As it turned out, police had the wrong house. The Marklands had no connection to the suspect police had been tracking as part of an investigation into an alleged gang. The only tenuous evidence linking them at all, Charney says, was the word of now-disgraced Hamilton officer Craig Ruthowsky, who's serving 12½ years in a federal penitentiary on corruption-related charges.

Ruthowsky said he'd seen the suspect entering Markland's home, Charney says. Ruthowsky passed on the address to a Toronto officer, who used it to get a search warrant.

Charney says the only real connection was that the suspect was using a parking lot near the Markland home to conduct criminal activity. And both the suspect and the Marklands are black.

Pamela Markland says she felt like her family didn't matter to police because they're "poor and black." "I had to fight because I couldn't let it go down like that." (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The Marklands sued the police services for $800,000 last year. Charney won't say what the settlement is, but it's "significant."

"We are satisfied that it's reasonable and in accordance with the law and previous decisions that are similar in nature," Charney said in front of Hamilton Police Service headquarters Friday.

"It brings a feeling of closure and a sense of justice to the family to bring the matter to an end."

Neither Hamilton nor Toronto police responded to requests for comment Friday. But Markland has plenty to say about the experience. She still recalls hearing her kids scream.

"It was a total nightmare," she said. "Just a total, total nightmare. I relive it over and over again. Sometimes I have to stop myself or I'll drive myself crazy."

The family was homeless for a brief time after the raid, she said, and it's challenging to find an affordable place with Hamilton's rising rents. The settlement will help.

Charney said he suspects there was racial motivation — or at least an implicit bias — in the officers choosing the house. Markland agrees.

"We were living in housing," she said. "It's a rough area. They think everybody there is the same. We're black. We're poor. I just feel like my kids didn't matter to them."

"I had to fight because I couldn't let it go down like that."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She often tweets about Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca

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