STM investigating after inspectors filmed punching woman during violent arrest
STM says inspectors intervened after seeing woman evade $3.50 fare to ride Metro
Montreal's public transit authority has launched an internal investigation after cellphone video was posted to social media showing two STM inspectors violently arresting a woman.
The video does not show what led up to the event in Jean-Talon Metro on Saturday, but instead starts with the two inspectors struggling to hold the young woman down.
One man sits on her legs, while the other appears to deliver multiple overhand punches to the prone woman's head with a closed fist.
The woman appears terrified. A few civilians come to her aid, struggling to pull the inspectors off her or to pull her away from the inspectors. The inspectors struggle to get an effective grip on the woman.
At one point, one of the inspector's arms is pulled off the woman's neck by a civilian. That's when she appears to bite one of the inspectors, and he responds by punching her in the face.
In the last few seconds of the video, Montreal police are on the scene, finalizing the arrest.
Mayor Valérie Plante acknowledged the video on Twitter Monday, saying "these are disturbing images, and an investigation begins today to shed light on what happened."
STM says woman refused to identify herself
In a statement published to its website Monday, the STM (Société de transport de Montréal) says the intervention began when inspectors stopped a woman they saw pass through the turnstiles without paying.
The alleged fare dodger refused to comply or identify herself, the STM says, and the discussion carried on for several minutes as "our employees tried to defuse the situation."
When the woman tries to flee toward the exit, the inspectors "go after her and physically intervene to immobilize her," the STM says.
During the arrest, the woman repeatedly bites the inspectors, causing injuries that required emergency treatment, the statement says.
Plusieurs personnes ont partagé une intervention d'agents de la STM qui a eu lieu ce week-end. Il s'agit d'images troublantes, et une enquête commence aujourd'hui pour faire la lumière sur ce qui s'est passé. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/polmtl?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#polmtl</a>—@Val_Plante
The STM says its internal investigation will review the use of force. Inspectors are expected to apply force proportional to the degree of resistance and aggressiveness of the person, says the transit authority, noting it is a common guideline for police services in Canada.
"In this case, the person was aggressive, actively resisted and bit our employees to the point of drawing blood, refusing to release the bite," the statement says.
The woman has been charged with assault.
Union defends inspectors' actions
The inspectors' union, the Fraternité des constables et agents de la paix de la STM (CSN), says in a statement that the video may appear disturbing, but what is even more disturbing is that "officers who have done their job are bitten three times to the point of drawing blood and must be hospitalized for doing their job."
The CSN says the inspectors attempted to de-escalate the situation for 20 minutes before the altercation.
"The union strongly deplores the many messages conveyed on social media inviting the population to physically attack the peace officers and special constables of the STM," the statement says.
CBC Montreal spoke with a witness who asked to remain anonymous for fear that speaking out could affect their job. The witness did not see what led up to the event in Jean-Talon Metro, but was first alerted to the altercation by the sounds of screaming.
The witness saw the inspectors trying to get the woman's hands behind her back.
"When she was on the floor, he punched her. I am positive I saw that. I was shocked. He punched her several times in the face with his fist," the witness said. "She was scared."
With files from Steve Rukavina