Manitoba·Video

Expert testifies RCMP officer who held knee on man's neck used unreasonable force

A use of force expert testified that an RCMP officer who held his knee on the neck of a man being arrested in 2019, who cried out "I can't breathe" for more than four minutes used force that wasn't justified for the situation.

Suspect lunged toward officer with a head-butt, kicked him in testicles, court hears

This still from a video taken by Nathan Lasuik's father shows an RCMP officer placing his knee on Lasuik's neck during his arrest outside the James Richardson International Airport in Winnipeg on Aug. 1, 2019. (Submitted by Nathan Lasuik)

WARNING: This story contains video which readers may find disturbing.

The amount of force used by a Manitoba RCMP officer who held his knee on the neck of a man repeatedly crying out "I can't breathe" during a 2019 arrest was not justified, a use of force expert told court on Monday.

Ste. Anne police department Sgt. Kelly Keith testified that it wasn't necessary for the officer to place his knee on Nathan Lasuik, who was charged with several counts of assault relating to the 2019 incident outside Winnipeg's airport.

"I don't know of any training that officers are trained to go across the neck. Now this has changed recently where sometimes we'd go across the back, is still acceptable and the shoulder area so the top of the shoulder area but ever since 1988, I've never been taught or shown a technique to go across the neck," Keith testified in a Winnipeg courtroom. 

The RCMP has said they responded to a report of an intoxicated man who assaulted a person at the airport and then struck an officer in the face without provocation.

Force wasn't appropriate: witness

Keith told the court that while Lasuik was unpredictable, officers have to use force based on the situation they are in and not retroactive to even a few moments before.

He said while police in this situation had to determine if Lasuik — who was shouting he couldn't breathe — was lying, the force used by the officer still wasn't appropriate considering Lasuik was handcuffed and pinned down to the ground by the officer and a colleague, as well as an airport employee.

"It's an application of force by leaving it on his neck, and that application of force has to be reasonable, proportionate and necessary, so in this case that knee needed to have been moved, and then the medical concerns needed to be dealt with."

The neck is a very vulnerable part of someone's body, Keith testified, adding if a knee or shin ended up on a suspect in an area it shouldn't, the situation should be rectified as soon as possible.

The details of the arrest have drawn comparisons to the murder of George Floyd, which came 11 months after the Manitoba incident. Floyd, who died under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, gasped "I can't breathe" as he was killed.

The Winnipeg incident, which took place outside the James Richardson International Airport on Aug. 1, 2019, was captured on video by Lasuik's father and airport surveillance video.

The footage shows an RCMP officer kneeling on Lasuik's neck for several minutes and placing the man's face against the ground. Lasuik repeatedly pleads with the officer, who does not appear to adjust his knee, nor the pressure.

WATCH | Video of 2019 arrest (WARNING: this video may be disturbing to viewers):

RCMP detain man at Winnipeg airport (WARNING: video may be disturbing to viewers)

4 months ago
Duration 4:44
Manitoba RCMP detain a man who they say was intoxicated and combative outside the Winnipeg airport in 2019. Video of the arrest was played in court to argue that excessive force was used by RCMP against the man, who was detained and charged with several counts of assault. 4:44

Lasuik is heard saying, "Let me breathe." Someone, though it's not clear who, responds, "You're breathing. When you're talking, you're breathing."

Again Lasuik says, "Let me breathe, guys. Please, please, let me breathe."

Someone is then heard saying, "Please nothing. You opened your mouth one too many times."

A bystander expresses concern about Lasuik. Soon after, a police officer frees Lasuik's neck from the knee of the officer and takes him to a police vehicle. 

Lasuik continues to beg the police officer to relax. "Now you're a tough guy, aren't you?" he is told. "I'm not a tough guy, I never was," Lasuik said, as he appears to start crying.

During cross examination from the Crown, court heard Lasuik swore at officers, ripped open one's vest, kicked the other in the testicles and lunged toward him with a head-butt motion.

Lasuik was aggressive with paramedics and had to be chemically sedated after his arrest. An officer believed he was under the influence of possibly meth or cocaine, the Crown said. Court heard Lasuik had six drinks on an empty stomach.

The Crown tried to poke holes in Lasuik's statement at the time he couldn't breathe, pointing out an officer previously testified she had seen Lasuik breathing while he was on the ground.

But Keith said it's not up to an officer to decide if an arrestee needs medical attention or not. "What if it is a heart attack? What if he does have asthma? What if it's all the drugs that he took? It's not relevant. What's relevant is he needs medical help," Keith testified.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

​Austin Grabish is a reporter for CBC News in Winnipeg. Since joining CBC in 2016, he's covered several major stories. Some of his career highlights have been documenting the plight of asylum seekers leaving America in the dead of winter for Canada and the 2019 manhunt for two teenage murder suspects. In 2021, he won an RTDNA Canada award for his investigative reporting on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which triggered change. Have a story idea? Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca

With files from Ian Froese

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