Montreal·Video

Laval police arrest of young black man deemed 'gratuitous assault,' as calls renewed for police reform

A disturbing video of Laval police pulling a black man out of a car by his hair last week has surfaced, as protests denouncing police violence and systemic racism are leading to renewed calls for police reform in the U.S. and Canada.

At exact hour George Floyd lay dying May 25, Laval officer pulled man out of car by dreadlocks and beat him

The vehicle Samuel, his brother and his friend were pulled over in still bears the marks of the canine unit dogs that were used to search the car. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

A disturbing video of Laval police pulling a black man out of a car by his hair and striking him in the head has surfaced, as protests denouncing police violence and systemic racism are leading to renewed calls for police reform in the United States and Canada.

The video, separated into two one-minute chunks, has been viewed nearly 900,000 times since it was posted to Facebook last week, circulating amid footage of other brutal police interventions.

It shows a black man in his 20s in the passenger seat of a car, speaking with a Laval police officer standing on the sidewalk. 

The officer asks the passenger to get out of the car, and the passenger asks why. 

"For obstruction and a police investigation," the officer says, in French.

"But what investigation?" the passenger asks.

"An investigation," the officer replies, reaching into the vehicle and grabbing the man by his dreadlocks. He then knees the man in the head and throws him to the ground. 

The second video shows the man contorted, face down on the ground, with two officers on top of him. They are yelling at him to put his hands behind his back, even while one of them grips the man's wrist above his head.

At one point, one of the officers can be seen punching the man's head and back. 

"But you're hitting me!" the man can be heard exclaiming. "You're holding me."

WATCH | Violent arrest of black man by Laval police caught on video:

'These were gratuitous assaults,' says lawyer helping Montréal-Nord man file a civil suit against the Laval police officers who pulled him from a car and beat him on May 25. 2:23

Samuel, whose last name CBC has agreed not to publish because he fears harassment, has relived those moments over and over since the arrest, which happened at the very same hour that George Floyd was killed in a brutal police takedown half a continent away, in Minneapolis, on May 25.

"All I wanted to know is, why did I have to come out of the car," Samuel recounted to CBC on Wednesday.

"What's going to happen if I get out of the car? What are they going to do to me? Am I going to put my hands behind my back, get handcuffed and get killed or something?"

He can't stop thinking about the incident.

"At night, when I'm alone, it's in my head. I can't sleep. I need some help." 

'With such disdain'

Will Prosper has seen dozens of videos like this since he traded in his RCMP badge for social activism 12 years ago.

Prosper is troubled by "the way he was treated by that police officer, with such disdain."

Like Prosper, Samuel is from Montréal-Nord, and the civil rights advocate has known him since he was a kid.

Prosper said Samuel had taken workshops to know his rights in case of a police encounter. And he'd received a certificate of merit from Montreal police for his community involvement.

Yet the video is evidence that police immediately saw him as a threat, Prosper said.

"These were gratuitous assaults," said Gunar Dubé, one of two lawyers who have offered to help Samuel file a civil suit against the Laval police officers who arrested him.

"This is an obvious case of racial profiling," said the other lawyer, Alain Arsenault. 

Will Prosper has seen dozens of videos like the one that capture Samuel's arrest since he traded in his RCMP badge for social activism 12 years ago. (CBC)

No racial profiling in Laval: police

Laval police disagree.

"The Laval police service does not have a racial profiling problem," said police spokesperson Sgt. Geneviève Major, pointing to the fact there were eight racial-profiling complaints against the Laval police service in 2019, and Laval police respond to about 150,000 calls per year.

Laval police do not collect race-based data on police interactions and have no immediate plans to do so, Major said. 

"Any individual with that same behaviour would have gotten the same treatment by the police officers," she said.

Major said Laval police stopped the car for erratic driving, and the officers told Samuel multiple times to get out of the car because they suspected drugs were inside before the video began.

Major said the officers were questioned by supervisors after the video went viral. The police service found they had been justified in their use of force, and in pulling over and searching the three men, she said.

Officers called the canine unit, and all three occupants of the vehicle were searched. No drugs were found. 

Arsenault believes the search was illegal and that police did not have a sufficient motive to order anyone out of the car. 

The men were ticketed for failing to abide by physical-distancing directives, and Samuel could face charges — including obstruction of justice.

The driver of the car says he took video police erased, but Major said there was no mention in the police report of the officers seizing cellphones and that it was a "serious allegation" he should make in an official complaint.

'Nobody deserves that. Nobody'

Blame a moment's indecision on a hot night.

Samuel, his brother and a friend were just out for a drive, Samuel said, and a stop to buy cold bottles of water.

They ended up in Laval, just across the Rivière-des-Prairies from their homes in Montréal-Nord.

They couldn't pick between a dépanneur and the IGA on Cartier Boulevard, the driver said. At one point, he settled on one of the stores, and made a U-turn. That's when they were pulled over. 

Samuel says he understands the value of the video circulating widely, but that each time he sees it go by on his feed he relives what happened.

"Nobody deserves that. Nobody," he says.

Thousands of people marched through the streets of Montreal to decry racism and police brutality. The Montreal demonstration followed protests elsewhere in Canada and across the United States after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis was captured on camera. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Prosper worries about the effect the arrest has had on Samuel's mental well-being, and the effect the video has on other black men when they watch it.

"You feel excluded, and you develop a frustration with a system that doesn't do anything for you," Prosper said. "Nobody cares for you — that's the feeling we are having."

Prosper is disheartened that Quebec's political leaders still don't recognize that police disproportionately target black people, Indigenous people and other people of colour, even as videos like Samuel's proliferate and the evidence mounts.

Last fall, the Montreal police service released a report from three independent researchers that found Indigenous people and black people were four to five times more likely than white people to be stopped by police.

The SPVM still hasn't announced the measures it plans to take in response to those findings of racial profiling.

And just this week, Premier François Legault denied, once again, there is systemic racism in Quebec, even while he said he "stands in solidarity with people who denounce racial violence."

"I think that there is some discrimination in Quebec, but there's no systemic discrimination, no system in Quebec of discrimination," he said Monday. "It's a very small minority of the people who are doing some discrimination."

Prosper wonders what more proof Quebec's leaders need, and said he's tired of repeating the same message over and over. 

"People said that things are going to change. Well, it's not changing right now. It's not changing at this time, after all of this," he said.

"Don't be surprised if we are in the streets because we've been facing the police brutalizing us for years, and years, and years, and years, and nobody has done anything."

Watch: Laval police accused of racial profiling in widely shared video

Police in Laval, Que., are being accused of using excessive force while arresting a black man, after video of the arrest was shared widely online. Laval police say the use of force was justified. 2:05

About the Author

Verity Stevenson is a reporter with CBC in Montreal. She has previously worked for the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star in Toronto, and the Telegraph-Journal in Saint John.

With files from Alison Northcott, Elias Abboud and Justin Hayward

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