London·Updated

Woman says officer grabbed her, another punched her in eye outside Ontario mall before she was charged

London, Ont., police are conducting an internal review after a woman selling tea outside a mall claims she was grabbed without explanation and then left with a black eye before she was charged with various offences.

London police say there wil be an internal police review

Sarah Soyemi, 36, was involved in an altercation with a London, Ont., police officer last week outside a mall that she says left her with a black eye. Police say she was resisting arrest, she and an officer sustained 'minor injuries,' and she's been charged. (Submitted by Sarah Soyemi)

A London, Ont., woman who was selling detox tea outside White Oaks Mall says a police officer grabbed her without explanation and another officer punched her, leaving her with a black eye, before she was charged with various offences.

Sarah Soyemi, 36, was charged last week with failing to leave the premises when directed, resisting arrest and assaulting a peace officer.

"It's just been a lot. It's so unbelievable," said Soyemi, a single mother of twin boys.

She posted about the incident on social media, and it has been viewed and shared thousands of times.

On Thursday, the London Police Service (LPS) said it is conducting an internal review to understand what happened. 

"While we disagree with some of the particulars of how this interaction has been described, the LPS takes all allegations of this nature very seriously, and as such the chief has directed that a review of this incident be conducted," Const. Sandasha Bough wrote in an email to CBC News.

A London police news release issued May 11, a day after the incident, says an officer had approached the woman and she "refused to leave when directed. When the officer advised the woman that she was under arrest for trespassing, she resisted arrest and became combative with police."

The release says more officers were dispatched to help, and at that time "the suspect continued to assault the officer and resist arrest."

"Both the officer and the suspect sustained minor injuries," it says.

'Don't touch me,' woman says she told police

According to Soyemi, she was in the White Oaks Mall parking lot talking to people about the tea she sells as an independent contractor when she was approached by a security guard

Soyemi said she told the guard she planned to leave within an hour.

"Because I'm still new here in London, I haven't met a lot of people and I usually go to the mall where people leave their homes and go," said Soyemi, who moved from Toronto to London six months ago.

She left Nigeria in 2018, and said she supports her family with her tea sales and money from the Ontario Works program.

Soyemi said that when a police van pulled up alongside her, she didn't realize it was for her.

"[The female officer] came out of the van and charged at me. She didn't have any conversation, I didn't get to see who she was — she just came right out of the van and tried to hold on to me."

Soyemi said she stepped back and yelled to the officer, "'Don't touch me. I didn't do anything so why are you coming to touch me?'" 

WATCH | Woman speaks about incident outside London mall (Note: Some viewers may find this video difficult to watch).

When the officer tried to grab her a second time, Soyemi said, she screamed, and "with a reflex action, I pulled on her hair." Both women fell and that's when Soyemi says two civilians pinned her to the ground, demanding she let go of the officer's hair.

"I told them to tell her to let go of me," she said. "We were there for about two minutes. And then when I tried to turn my head, another male police officer came and punched me in the eye, and then I passed out."

Soyemi was handcuffed, seated in the back of a police cruiser and taken to the police station to be charged. 

Police say Soyemi had previously been banned from White Oaks Mall. When CBC News asked the mall to confirm that, administrators said it couldn't comment for privacy reasons.

Soyemi said she had been in the mall parking lot once before, but didn't believe she was banned.

At the police station, Soyemi asked for assistance with her eye, which was swelling.

"I felt my eye bulge out and I started to scream, 'I need medical attention.' I couldn't see anything through the eye," she said. 

She was told she could get help after she was released, Soyemi said, but did not receive any help in the end.

"They threw me out of the police station. I didn't know where I was because I've never been there before."

According to Soyemi, after leaving the police station, she picked up her sons from school and the three of them took a taxi to the emergency room at University Hospital, where she was given an MRI.

"They said my face was fractured," she said. "I didn't deserve that."

Advocate with Black Lives Matter comments

Alexandra Kane, who's with Black Lives Matter London, was asked to comment on the incident.

"Every day, we're getting stories of organizations exerting their force, organizations being racist towards Black people. It's an everyday thing," said Kane.

"I'm sick of it. My stomach hurts. My gut hurts. My heart hurts.

"It goes from zero to 100 just because you're Black. Why did [the officer] put her hands on [Soyemi]? Why did she touch her in the first place?"

Police said they'll contact Soyemi to tell her how to file a complaint with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director.

Soyemi is scheduled to appear in court on Aug. 2.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said the London Police Service (LPS) has hired an independent reviewer to look into the incident outside White Oaks Mall. In fact, LPS is conducting an internal review directed by the police chief.
    May 19, 2022 4:24 PM ET

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rebecca Zandbergen

Host, London Morning

Rebecca Zandbergen is from Ottawa and has worked for CBC Radio across the country for more than 20 years, including stops in Iqaluit, Halifax, Windsor and Kelowna.

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