Blind man says he was tackled, arrested after white cane mistaken for weapon
Steven Stairs says police failed to identify themselves before dragging him to the ground
A legally blind Winnipeg man is filing a formal complaint against the Winnipeg Police Service after he says police tackled him to the ground without warning.
Steven Stairs, 31, says police officers mistook the cane he was wearing on his hip for a weapon.
The arrest occurred at City Place in downtown Winnipeg on Monday, March 21 at around 7:15 p.m.
"They just told me that I fit a description of someone with a concealed weapon and they were taking me downtown," said Stairs.
I was thrown to the ground violently with no notice or alert to what was going on, and it scared the life out of me.- Steven Stairs, legally blind Winnipeg man
Stairs said police officers failed to identify themselves before tackling him from behind. Stairs is unsure of the number of officers involved in the arrest, but said there were multiple people on top of him.
Before the arrest, Stairs, his wife, and a friend were at Tavern United downtown when a verbal argument started within the group. The three made their way to the street, at which point Stairs left the group for City Place in search of a pay phone.
A few moments later, officers approached Stairs' wife and the friend. They both confirmed to CBC that police wanted to know what Stairs was wearing on his hip. While the two were conversing with officers, Stairs was escorted out of City Place in handcuffs.
Thrown to the ground
Stairs said the last thing he remembers before the arrest was lifting the pay phone's receiver to his ear.
"I was thrown to the ground violently with no notice or alert to what was going on, and it scared the life out of me. I started screaming 'Help me' because I had no idea what was going on. No one identified themselves to me."
Stairs said when he started yelling for help, officers identified themselves and said they were responding to reports that he had a concealed weapon. He said that after arguing with police about his cane being mistaken for a weapon, officers accused him of being disorderly and arrested him. Stairs was detained at Main Street Project's "drunk tank" under the Intoxicated Persons Detention Act.
Police say individual intoxicated
Winnipeg Police Service confirmed that a 31-year-old male was arrested after police responded to a disturbance at City Place on Monday, but did not further address Stairs' concerns. Police refused to comment on the nature of the disturbance or what kind of force was used in the arrest, but said the individual was "highly" intoxicated.
The force used in the arrest is Stair's biggest concern but he also wants to know the Winnipeg Police Service's protocol when it comes to dealing with disabled people.
"I had the cane folded up on my hip, which is where I always carry it when I don't need it to guide me through my mobility. I was with my wife, [a] trusted spouse and a friend, so I was comfortable with where I was, but at least it was on my hip so that people know that I have a visual impairment. It's almost like a badge that says, 'Hey, sorry if I bump into you. This is why.'"
Stairs said the cane should have been an indication to police that they were dealing with a visually-impaired person.
"For a person with a vision problem to be thrown in that position with no explanation and then no justification to why they did it makes no sense to me. They abused their power on a disabled person."
Stairs has begun the process of filing a formal complaint with the Law Enforcement Review Agency, which is part of the official complaint procedure for the Winnipeg Police Service. He is also considering legal action.