Montreal man says he was mistakenly detained, roughed up by police

A Montreal man says a trip to the dépanneur to pick up milk ended with him being wrestled to the ground and handcuffed by police.

Errol Burke was buying milk at local dépanneur when he got caught up in a stabbing investigation

Montreal police detained Errol Burke Saturday night and told him he fit the description of the suspect in a nearby stabbing, who police said was wearing military garb. (CBC)

A Montreal man says a trip to the dépanneur to pick up milk ended with him being wrestled to the ground and handcuffed by police. 

Errol Burke left his Côte-des-Neiges home and headed to the store on his bike around 9:30 p.m. Saturday. He noticed two police cruisers while on his way but thought nothing of it.

Security footage from Dépanneur Bon Soleil on Décarie Boulevard shows Burke get off his bike at the front door. He said he had his hand on the door and was about to enter when he heard a voice yell at him to freeze and put his hands in the air.

I'm brown, right, so that means it's me. The first coloured man you see is the guy.- Errol Burke

He said when he turned around, he saw two officers running at him. He wasn't wearing his glasses, but he noticed as they approached that they had their guns drawn.

"I was shocked," he said.

"Your body is just screaming, 'Something bad is going to happen to you. You are going to get hurt.'"

He didn't know it, but a stabbing that had taken place not far from where he was would lead to an incident that left him angry and in shock.

'Very hard' takedown, witness says

Burke, an illustrator, said police pinned him to the wall, handcuffed him, slammed him to the ground, dragged him onto the street and starting searching his pockets.

He said he asked the officers why he was being apprehended, and police told him to shut up and stop resisting.

"I said, 'I'm not resisting you, I'm just asking why this is happening,'" he said.

Richard Zilberg was inside the dépanneur and saw the altercation take place.

He said he saw police officers draw guns, pin Burke against the window, and he watched as one officer took him down "very hard."

"What I felt was that there was a very serious crime, because why would they be very aggressive? I mean really aggressive?" Zilberg said.
Richard Zilberg was at the dépanneur on Décarie Blvd. Saturday when Errol Burke was taken down by police and characterized the altercation as 'very aggressive.' (CBC)

Fit the description

Burke says police eventually told him someone had been stabbed in the area and that he matched the description of the suspect.

He said he asked how he matched the description and no one answered. He pressed them, guessing the suspect was, as he put it, brown.

"I'm brown, right, so that means it's me. The first coloured man you see is the guy," he said he told them.

That's when an officer told him the suspect was wearing military clothing. Burke was wearing a jacket with a camouflage pattern.

Once police checked his ID and realized Burke wasn't who they were looking for, he was free to go. But he was livid.

"If you are a male, and if you have a certain melanin level in your skin, you are categorized by the police department as being a criminal. That's what they see you as first," he said.

Burke said he injured his back, but a doctor told him he should make a full recovery.

Uncertain about complaint

A Montreal police spokesman confirmed that a man was detained, questioned and released during an investigation into a stabbing Saturday night on Décarie Boulevard, a few blocks away from where Burke went to buy milk.

But he did not give a description of the suspect or discuss what tactics officers used while detaining the man, saying a commander would have to answer those questions.

The police department declined a CBC request to make someone available to give more information about the incident.

Burke said he's had other run-ins with police, including one incident with a bus driver in Châteauguay in 1996. He was given a conditional discharge after obstructing a police officer.

When they released him, Montreal police told Burke he could make a formal complaint if he had a problem with what transpired. While he was too shaken up to do it right away, he is looking into pursuing the matter.

"It's such a daunting task to be up against the system, because it's not there for you," he said.

with files from Arian Zarrinkoub and CBC Montreal's Daybreak