Witness who taped arrest calls out 'extreme violence,' but use-of-force expert says officers did nothing wrong

A woman says she witnessed unnecessary force by two Winnipeg Police Service officers this week. But after watching the video she took, a member of the Winnipeg Police Association and former use-of-force instructor says the force was completely necessary.

Video shows officers attempting to subdue suspect on busy street

Woman films police arrest on Main Street 2:24

A woman is sharing a video of what she considers unnecessary use of force by two Winnipeg Police Service officers earlier this week, but police are providing more details into the arrest that aren't visible in the clip.

After watching that video, a member of the Winnipeg Police Association and former use-of-force instructor says the officers acted just as they are trained to and prevented the situation from becoming more serious. 

Andrea von Wichert was a passenger in a vehicle heading down Main Street near Sutherland Avenue around 7:20 p.m. Wednesday. 

"Traffic was held up because something was going on," said von Wichert, who pulled out her cellphone and started recording.

"It was shocking, actually, the extreme violence of the incident and I recorded the last little bit of it before we moved along in traffic because we couldn't keep blocking the Main Street," she said.

The video shows two officers. One is seen kneeling at the man's head, which is on the sidewalk, and the other is standing over the man's legs, which are on the busy road.

The standing officer appears to grab the man's arm to handcuff him, but the man repeatedly pulls his arm out of the officer's grasp.

"A transit bus passes and you see they have the guy down on the sidewalk and they're, like, kind of giving him punches and jigs to the ribs," von Wichert said. "Rather than get him in the ribs and stuff they could just have actually restrained him. It looked punitive to me."

The Winnipeg Police Service said Friday that the officers were called to the area of Jarvis Avenue and King Street for the report of a fight. When they arrived, according a police spokesperson, the officers saw two men involved in an altercation. One man took off, but the other dropped a can of bear spray and ran into the officers. 

"It was at this point while they were trying to effect the arrest that one of our officers was injured in the upper body; he was assaulted," said Const. Jay Murray, with the Winnipeg Police Service.

"There's a lot more that happens before, after and during an arrest," he said. 

"I just want to caution people not to judge just on those few seconds because an officer was assaulted and that's something that you don't see in the video."

He said once the officers' incident reports are filed, the Use of Force Unit will review the incident to determine if officers' tactics were appropriate.

The suspect has been charged with possession of a prohibited weapon — bear spray — assaulting a peace officer, resisting arrest, and failing to comply with probation conditions.

'Acted in the manner in which they were trained'

But Winnipeg Police Association vice-president George Van Mackelbergh, who used to train officers on the use of force, said the officers' actions appear to be justified.

"It appears to me that they've acted in the manner in which they were trained," he said.

"They have a gentleman half on the sidewalk, half in the street," Van Mackelbergh said after watching the 28-second video.

"One of the officers is actually standing in the street straddling him with his back to traffic. It's a very hazardous situation to be in," he said.

"At any time, it's entirely possible that the man being arrested could have kicked that officer and knocked him off balance into traffic. Very dangerous."

He said police were using pain to try to distract the suspect into giving up control of his right arm so they could handcuff him.

"They're trying to gain control of him, they're giving him verbal commands, he's not complying." 

He noted that police didn't escalate by using their Tasers, batons or pepper spray.

"You can see him, eventually, he gives the arm up after a number of knee strikes. Once they have control of that arm, he's handcuffed, and the use of force stops," Van Mackelbergh said. 

'Great evidence for these officers'

He said people have been filming interactions with police more and more over the past 15 years, as more people carry cellphones with high-quality cameras on them at all times. 

"It looks shocking if you're not used to seeing it or don't understand what's happening," he said.

"I don't have any problem with people filming police interaction. In a case like this, that's great evidence for these officers. I wish someone was around to be able to get that and put it in with the report," Van Mackelbergh said.

Even after hearing the details of the arrest and why police reacted the way they did, von Wichert said she is still "disturbed" by what she witnessed between them and the man on the ground.

"It doesn't really matter what he was doing, public servants like the police, they have extra powers that we don't have, which means that they have to have extra due diligence," she said.

And von Wichert said her community, Point Douglas, already has a complicated relationship with police.

"It looked to me, if you took away the uniform, that there were two white men beating on a First Nations guy," she said, which, she added, is the reason she started filming. 

"And then you add the uniforms and they just happened to be police officers."