Cellphone video shows Winnipeg police officer punching handcuffed suspect, police say force justified

A video showing a man being handcuffed and punched by a Winnipeg police officer during an arrest in the North End this week is raising questions about the use of force among police officers.

Winnipeg police say use of force in this incident was justified

Cellphone video of police arrest

6 years ago
Duration 1:08
A video showing a man being handcuffed and punched by a Winnipeg police officer during an arrest in the North End this week is raising questions about the use of force among police officers.

A video showing a man being handcuffed and punched by a Winnipeg police officer during an arrest in the North End Tuesday afternoon is raising questions about the use of force by police officers.

"It was very disturbing," said the man who shot the video, adding he does not want to be identified for fear of retribution from police officers.

The man told CBC he shot the incident with his phone while he was on his way to class at the University of Winnipeg.

He said he was riding in the passenger seat of his father's car near McGregor Street and Burrows Avenue when he first spotted the officer "stomping"on a man lying on the ground.

The man said at first he heard lot of sirens, and then saw police cars pulling up to the area.

"That kind of got my attention, at that point I continued to watch to see what was going on, and they dragged what appeared to be an aboriginal youth already handcuffed," he said. "And they throw him back on the ground and then an officer started to punch him in the back of the head and stuff like that."

He said the man being arrested was indigenous, lying on his stomach and was in handcuffs.

"He was out of it, he was pretty limp and he was already handcuffed. Who knows what this youth did or why they're arresting him?" he said. "But he's already handcuffed, there was no reason for them to continue with the beating."

He said he wanted to make the video public because he was concerned the officer used excessive force that wasn't necessary. 

"I felt like this type of stuff should be recorded, and it should be known to the public and as well for the Winnipeg police service so that they can address it."

'It's a delicate balance,' say Winnipeg police

CBC showed the video to the Winnipeg Police Service.

"One of the things we know is that a video tells part of a story," said Winnipeg police spokesman Const. Rob Carver.

"As an officer my perspective is different, I think for an untrained civilian, use of force looks potentially more violent than it is."

Winnipeg police Const. Rob Carver says video of a police officer punching a suspect in handcuffs in the North End on Tuesday afternoon doesn't tell the whole story, adding that the use of force can look more violent than it really is. (CBC)
Carver said the suspect in the video is a 25-year-old man who was wanted in connection with a police pursuit of a stolen vehicle that day.

Carver said the suspect, who is known to police, was a passenger in a stolen car with another co-accused. At one point, the suspect jumped out and that's when the police chased after him.

He confirms there was a struggle between the suspect and police officer, and that the suspect resisted arrest multiple times.

"It can look violent and the reality is arrests can be violent," Carver said. "This officer ended up struggling quite hard with this individual and it is clear that he did use two strikes while the person was handcuffed."

Police said it's not unusual for an officer to resort to use of force even if the suspect is on the ground in handcuffs.

"It's a delicate balance that every single officer in the street has to deal with every single day," Carver said.

Carver said a suspect in handcuffs can still use his hands to claw at an officer's legs or try and grab the officer's weapon.

"When an individual is handcuffed while they're restrained, it doesn't mean they're immobilized," he said.

Police could not comment on whether the officer kicked or stomped on the accused, as the man who shot the video alleges.

 "I don't have that information I'm not aware if that's being investigated."

"The reality is we don't have all the information yet," said Patrol Sgt. Julio Berzenji, a use of force instructor for the Winnipeg Police Service. 

Berzenji said incidents where force is needed are rare in Winnipeg, but it does happen.

"If what we see appears to be two strikes, if that is what we're looking at, it certainly looks like it was to the head and shoulders, and if it is to the area of the shoulders, that's consistent with training."

Police confirm the suspect in the video was sent to hospital as a precaution and released. He is in custody charged with break and enter, theft, possessing a prohibited weapon, escaping lawful custody and assaulting a peace officer.

Suspect 'thrown around like a rag doll'

Dion Knol, who works with indigenous families at the Andrews Street Family Centre in the North End saw the video and calls it disturbing. 

"It almost made me sick to my stomach," said Knol. "I understand that a police officer's job can be very stressful."

"But when it comes down to the fact that you have a handcuffed suspect who can't defend himself, I just don't think an officer should be striking any suspect for any reason.

"It was clear especially after the officer strikes the suspect, that the suspect is so limp, his legs are like noodles and he's thrown around like a rag doll."

Video sparks renewed calls for body cameras on police officers

"Absolutely there's reason to be concerned," said executive director of Ka Ni Kanichihk Leslie Spillett who watched the video.
Leslie Spillett is renewing calls for police officers to wear body cameras. (CBC)

"I could see an individual punching another individual, he seemed to have limited control, he seemed like a rag doll, " said Spillett, a former member of the Winnipeg Police Board.

However, she said the video only shows half the story. Spillett said there are still many questions about what really happened in the moments leading up to the arrest.

"The quality of the video is limited and it tells a story, but we don't know what the story really is by seeing it."

Spillett said incidents involving police that are caught on camera will continue to be a problem unless police officers start wearing body cameras, something that she advocated for while she sat on Winnipeg's police board. 

"This had been an on-going issue for a long time not just in Winnipeg but across Canada."

"That is one way to hold people accountable first of all, secondly it protects the community, it protects the police officer, it's a better way of bringing evidence to court."

A $1-million pilot project that would have seen Winnipeg police officers wear body cameras was cancelled last March.