Manitoba

Police probe cop's alleged snap in online photo flap

City police say they are trying to get to the bottom of allegations one of their officers snapped a photo of a man who appeared to be unresponsive while a first-responder crew was helping him.

Man was ‘treated in a respectful and professional manner at all times,’ city says

Justin Highway's photo of an emergency crew assisting a man at Grant Avenue and Stafford Street on Friday has drawn widespread social media attention and concern. CBC has blurred the man's face to protect his identity. (Submitted by Justin Highway)

City police say they are trying to get to the bottom of allegations one of their officers snapped a photo of a man who appeared to be unresponsive while a first-responder crew was helping him.

Justin Highway, whose photo of the immediate aftermath has attracted wide attention online, says the officer took the photo as the unresponsive man rested his head on the shoulder of an emergency crew member.

And while the City of Winnipeg says first responders treated the man in a respectful and professional manner at all times, police won't say if their officer took a photo, and if she did, what the point and purpose of the image was.

In Highway's photo, a smiling Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service employee is seen sitting next to the man. The female officer is in front of him and accompanied by another police officer. A total of four WFPS employees are shown in the image, which you can tell little from.  

If valid, it's obviously unbecoming of what's expected by our emergency responders- Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman 

Highway said he was in the passenger's seat of his girlfriend's SUV around 5:30 p.m. Friday when he pulled out his phone at a red light to take a photo of first responders working on the corner of Grant Avenue and Stafford Street.

Nothing he saw the first responders do was out of the ordinary and Highway said he simply wanted to document the scene of them dealing with a man sitting on a bus bench.

But that changed when he and his girlfriend said they saw a female police officer standing in front of the bench take a photo of the man who they believe appeared to be in a vulnerable state.

Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Chief John Lane has reviewed the photo that's circulating online. (CBC)

"He was unresponsive and not able to verbalize any form of consent for them to be taking any photos of him in that condition," Highway told CBC News on Sunday.

"She had her phone up and it was turned sideways like as she was taking the picture."

Highway said he wasn't able to capture the officer taking a photo of the man but he's confident the officer took a photo because of the way she had her phone turned.

"I'm pretty positive she took a picture," he said. 

Photo of aftermath draws comment from mayor 

A police spokesperson said the matter is under review.

"We are looking into circumstances surrounding the photo and our presence during this incident. We will not be able to comment until we have reviewed the matter and obtained more information," the statement said.

The photo Highway took and posted on Facebook quickly attracted backlash from Winnipeggers even though the context of what it is showing isn't clear. It's been shared nearly 1,000 times on Facebook.

On Twitter, a user drew the photo to the attention of Winnipeg's mayor.

"The Police Chief and Fire Paramedic Chief, as well as senior administration, are already aware of the photo. It's being reviewed. If valid, it's obviously unbecoming of what's expected by our emergency responders," Bowman tweeted in a reply Saturday morning. 

Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Chief John Lane has looked at the photo, according to a city spokesperson who said WFPS staff spent approximately 90 minutes caring for the individual while awaiting police transport. 

"At the point this photo was taken, WFPS staff were providing information to WPS, while the individual was resting his head on the shoulder of one of our WFPS members. We can assure you that this individual was treated in a respectful and professional manner at all times."

About the Author

​Austin Grabish started reporting when he was young, landing his first byline when he was just 18. He joined CBC in 2016 after freelancing for several outlets. ​​In 2018, he was part of a team of CBC journalists who won the Ron Laidlaw Award for the corporation's extensive digital coverage on asylum seekers crossing into Canada. Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca