Complaints about excessive force, unnecessary standoff highlighted in police review agency's report

Multiple complaints were registered against various Winnipeg police officers and their decision to use certain tactics against citizens, says a report from the Law Enforcement Review Agency.

Almost two-thirds of complaints to Law Enforcement Review Agency dismissed, 2017 annual report says

The Winnipeg Police Service was involved in 86 per cent of complaints made to LERA in 2017. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

The case of a man who alleges he was dragged from a truck, punched repeatedly and kicked by police officers was serious enough to be referred to a hearing before a provincial court judge, Manitoba's Law Enforcement Review Agency found last year.

That case was among 119 investigated by LERA in 2017, according to to the review agency's annual report, which was released Wednesday.

The number of investigations is a drop from 122 complaints the year before.

In total, nearly two-thirds of the investigations — 64 per cent — were dismissed by the commissioner, either because they were outside LERA's scope (25 cases), did not have sufficient evidence to justify a hearing (50 cases), or were deemed frivolous or vexatious (one case).

Another 42 cases — or 35 per cent of investigations — were withdrawn by the complainants.

One other case was resolved informally.

The most common complaint received by the review agency — an independent, non-police agency that reviews complaints, but does not investigate criminal matters — in 2017 was the alleged excessive use of force.

The Winnipeg Police Service was involved in 86 per cent of complaints made to LERA in 2017.

Choking allegations led to criminal charge

The agency's annual report does not provide specific details on cases, but does highlight a few case summaries for the year.

In one case highlighted in the 2017 report, the LERA commissioner referred an incident to the province's attorney general for possible criminal charges, after the son of a police officer claimed he was choked during an arrest.

The incident began when the man, who was the victim of a serious assault, was handcuffed and thrown to the floor by security guards at a licensed establishment.

A guard repeatedly punched him in the face as he was on the ground, according to LERA report.

Police were called, and the handcuffs were removed when they arrived, the report says.

As police searched him, the man received a call from his father, an off-duty police officer, which he answered. Officers told him hang up, which he refused to do, until eventually an officer allegedly grabbed the man's phone and choked him to the point where he struggled to breathe.

The man told LERA he was then put in the back cage of a  police van, without being read his rights under the charter or given a reason for his arrest. 

He filed a complaint with LERA against the officer, alleging assault and unnecessary use of violence.

He also filed a criminal complaint against the officer, who was charged with assault. Because a criminal investigation takes precedence over a LERA investigation, the review agency's investigation was put on hold.

The criminal charges against the police officer were eventually stayed, and the complainant said he no longer wanted to proceed with the LERA complaint against the officer.

Guns drawn at drive-thru

Another case highlighted in the annual report was referred to a provincial court judge for a hearing.

In that case, police officers faced an agency investigation after drawing their guns on a man in a drive-thru and dragging him from his truck. 

The complainant told LERA he was sitting in his truck at a drive-thru when two men — who he later learned were plainclothes police officers — approached him with guns drawn.

The officers later said they followed the truck after noticing it matched the description of one that had been reported stolen. When they ran a check on the truck's licence plate, they found there was a stolen vehicle report connected to the plate number.

The complainant said the truck had been reported stolen months earlier, and police had not removed the report from their system.

Police acknowledged the complainant was dragged from the truck and then punched in the face multiple times. The complainant also alleged he was kicked in the lower back, and had his head smashed against a police cruiser.

He claims that he was never given a reason for the arrest and during the incident police used abusive and offensive language. 

Officers told investigators they believed the man was "uncooperative" and thought he had reached his hand down to grab a weapon or use his truck as a weapon against them.

They claim the force used was required, saying the man was defensive and resisted the arrest.

A staff member at the restaurant told the LERA investigator she saw the man put his hands up and do as police instructed. No video or audio recording was captured.

The man suffered injuries which were diagnosed as blunt trauma, causing him to miss 29 days of work.

The LERA commissioner referred the case to a provincial judge. But after the complainant failed to show up for two appearances to arrange a hearing date, the case was dismissed.

Standoff complaint

In a third case highlighted in the LERA report, a friend of a man who struggles with mental health and addictions questioned the police's tactics after a standoff outside the man's home.

Police had arrested the man once before, and during a second arrest, they cleared out neighbouring houses and had a tactical team ready for a standoff.

The friend of the man alleged that police could simply have knocked on the door instead of resorting to what she described as a "standoff," which negatively affected the man because it drew the attention of media and the man's neighbours.

LERA determined the complaint was outside its scope to investigate, because it does not investigate issues like police tactics, and did not pursue an investigation.