Montreal

Montreal man recounts 'traumatizing' experience of wrongful arrest by police

In his first public appearance since he was wrongfully arrested by Montreal police last month, Mamadi Ill Fara Camara said he was unable to speak to his family at all during the six days he spent in detention and that he remains deeply shaken by the ordeal.

Mamadi Ill Fara Camara says he was unable to speak to family while detained for 6 days

Mamadi Ill Fara Camara discussed his wrongful arrest and detention on Radio-Canada's Tout le monde en parle on Sunday. (Radio-Canada)

In his first public appearance since he was wrongfully arrested by Montreal police last month, Mamadi Ill Fara Camara said he was unable to speak to his family at all during the six days he spent in detention and that he remains deeply shaken by the ordeal.

"If they had listened to my story, maybe it wouldn't have been six days," Camara said on Radio-Canada's Tout le monde en parle Sunday, where he appeared along with his lawyer, Virginie Dufresne-Lemire, and community activist Will Prosper. 

"It was a relief to my entire family," he said about his eventual exoneration. "For those six days I was never allowed to speak to my family. Never."

Camara, a 31-year-old PhD student, was arrested Jan. 28 after witnessing an attack on a police officer by an unknown assailant. The officer had stopped him for allegedly driving while using a cell phone in Montreal's Parc-Extension neighbourhood.

Camara called police and then waited for them to arrive. He provided a statement, and then was allowed to go home, his family has said.

He was arrested later near his home. Dufresne-Lemire said police pointed their weapons at Camara, who was pulled out of his car through the window and thrown to the ground. She said an officer put his foot on Camara's head.

He was detained overnight, charged the next day and made to wait behind bars until his bail hearing on Feb. 3. Instead of a hearing, charges were abruptly stayed after new evidence was brought to light, including traffic camera footage of the violent altercation between an unknown assailant and the Montreal police officer.

DNA evidence further exonerated Camara and he was cleared of all charges on Feb. 5.

The police focused on one lead and ignored the absence of other evidence, Dufresne-Lemire said. "The phenomenon of tunnel vision, in my view, is evident," she said.

Dufresne-Lemire said a lawsuit remains possible, but they are still studying their options.

In a statement Monday, Montreal police said it wouldn't comment on the TV appearance, but reiterated it would co-operate with an investigation launched last week by the Quebec government into the arrest.

Police have insisted Camara's arrest was based strictly on the evidence, not profiling. But Dufresne-Lemire said "the racial question must be asked, and it certainly played a role in the way the story played out."

Prosper was more direct, positing whether someone in a more affluent neighbourhood would receive the same treatment. Prosper said police intercepted Camara on his way home from where he had witnessed the crime, yet still turned his apartment upside down to search for evidence — and then made the other residents of the apartment block leave to do the same.

'My family knows who I am'

Camara said his experience at the Rivière-des-Prairies detention centre, where he was held, was "very traumatizing."

"When I arrived I felt that all the guards there, it was like 'it's the cop killer,'" Camara recounted. "I was considered a monster."

Camara has since received an apology from Sylvain Caron, Montreal's police chief.

Camara said his family — including his wife, who is pregnant with twins — was relieved by his exoneration. He added they had been strong throughout the ordeal.

"My family knows who I am," he said. "And they knew I was innocent. Even though we couldn't speak."

Camara's duties at his lab at École polytechnique de Montréal were suspended during the criminal proceedings and he was barred from campus. He said he has since been invited to go back when he is ready.

"Right now it's very hard to return," he said.

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