Cyclist says he was doused with pepper spray after he asked officer to turn high beams off
Independent Investigation Unit says it is looking into complaint
A Winnipeg cyclist says a police officer pepper-sprayed him in the face moments after he asked the officer to turn his vehicle's high-beam headlights off.
Thomas Krause, a 29-year-old audio-visual technician who works late shifts at a downtown hotel, says he was biking home in the West End around 3 a.m. on April 12 when he crossed paths with a marked Winnipeg Police Service SUV.
"There were high beams in my eyes," Krause said Wednesday, adding the incident began as he and the officer were travelling in opposite directions on Home Street at St. Matthews Avenue.
"I said, 'Turn off your brights,'" Krause said. "I think I said it pretty calmly. I would say that to any driver."
Krause claims the officer, who was travelling alone, got out of the vehicle and began to swear at him.
I told him 'I don't think you have the right to search my bag,' and his immediate response was to Mace me.- Thomas Krause
"He was immediately belligerent. He was yelling at me. He asked me what the f--k did I say," Krause said.
According to Krause, the officer told him he needed his brights to do his job. Then, Krause says, the officer told him he was searching for a man fitting Krause's description and demanded to look in his backpack.
"I told him 'I don't think you have the right to search my bag,' and his immediate response was to Mace me," Krause said, referring to a brand name of pepper spray. Krause said the officer also threatened him with a baton but never hit him.
Krause, who told CBC he has long held critical views of police, says he did not respond angrily, but simply refused to consent to the officer looking in his bag, which says contained his wallet, a painting, his work clothes and a few other things — not illegal drugs or weapons.
Krause says the pepper spray hit the lower part of his face — his cheeks, nose and mouth. Photographs Krause provided to CBC showed his skin pink and inflamed.
"My whole face was burning. As the night went on, it dripped down my chin and down my chest," he said.
Police need reasonable suspicion: lawyer
Krause says he was handcuffed and detained in the back of the officer's SUV. About 20 minutes later, paramedics called by the officer poured saline on his face and checked his heart rate. Krause says he declined their offer to take him to hospital.
Krause says he was detained for about an hour.
Winnipeg police say they have referred the incident to Manitoba's police oversight agency, the Independent Investigation Unit. On Thursday afternoon the police watchdog confirmed it is looking into Krause's complaints.
"Although there were no serious injuries as a result of this incident, the IIU civilian director has determined it is in the public interest for the unit to investigate," said a news release issued by the agency.
Mark Wasyliw, a criminal defence lawyer, says police need reasonable suspicion to stop and question a person — and they need more than a hunch to arrest and search.
"When they stop and question you, they do not have the power to search you," he said. "The only exception is if they have some objective information that you pose a security risk and that you may have weapons or be armed."
Krause said the officer told him he was looking for a white male with a backpack travelling on a bike who was breaking into cars.
Wasyliw says the fact Krause was a white male on a bike with a backpack could be enough to question him — but an arrest, search and use of pepper spray is a different matter.
"If you don't have a security risk they can't search you. They can't go into your backpack or any bags without your consent," he said.
If they use excessive force, which potentially they could have in this case, that's a serious violation of that individual's rights.- Mark Wasyliw, criminal defence lawyer
Use of force, such as the use of pepper spray, must be tailored to the situation, Wasyliw says.
"If they use excessive force, which potentially they could have in this case, that's a serious violation of that individual's rights."
The following day Krause wrote about his experience in a Facebook post. In it, he is open about his critical views of police, writing "f--k the police" and saying "police are not making anyone safer, especially the most vulnerable people in our communities."
"As a white cis male," he wrote, "I want to acknowledge that this kind of violence is enacted on people of colour all the time, and is a result of white supremacy and colonialism."
Krause told CBC he held these negative views about police long before he was pepper sprayed.
"I've always been concerned about the police. I've never had a reason to really trust them," he said, citing media stories about instances where police have used lethal force against individuals.
Krause is currently working with a lawyer to file a complaint with Manitoba's Law Enforcement Review Agency.
Winnipeg police have declined to comment further on Krause's allegations.
With files from Ismaila Alfa and Kim Kaschor