Montreal police say arrest, 6-night detention of man was not case of racial profiling

While investigators hunt for whoever attacked and disarmed a Montreal police officer during a routine traffic stop last week, the force’s top brass is defending the arrest and six-night detention of an apparently innocent man.

Investigation continues today with SPVM command post set up in LaSalle

SPVM Chief Sylvain Caron said this was not a case of racial profiling as police acted on the evidence they had on Jan. 28. (François Sauvé/Radio-Canada)

While investigators hunt for whoever attacked and disarmed a Montreal police officer during a routine traffic stop last week, the force's top brass is defending the arrest and six-night detention of an apparently innocent man.

Simonetta Barth, the SPVM's deputy director, and Chief Sylvain Caron insist Mamadi III Fara Camara, a Black man, was arrested based on the evidence investigators had at the time.

"It has nothing to do with racial profiling or social profiling or anything like that," Barth said during a Thursday news conference.

"We went with the facts that were in front of us at the time that the investigation was starting."

Police have provided few details about what went wrong and who is now being sought after an officer was violently attacked in Parc-Extension on Jan. 28.The incident ended with an officer in hospital and Camara, an expecting father and PhD student, behind bars.

Radio-Canada has learned that a camera operated by Quebec's Ministry of Transport to monitor traffic on Highway 40 captured the altercation.

That video evidence appears to have helped vindicate Camara, a recent immigrant with no criminal history, but police have said video evidence did not in itself absolve him of the crime.

Forensic tests are still being conducted, and investigators should know for certain in the coming 24 to 48 hours if Camara is as blameless as he claims, Barth said. On Friday, the investigation had centred on an area in Montreal's LaSalle borough, where a car they say is connected to the incident was found.

Caron said police will apologize to Camara "at the appropriate time" once all the evidence is gathered. As it stands, proceedings were stayed against Camara and could be revived if evidence permits.

Caron said investigators acted with "diligence and professionalism" since the very beginning.

Despite his assertion, the force has come under fire for the way it handled the case.

Chief rejects mayor's call for independent investigation

Earlier in the day, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante called for an independent investigation into charges she said were erroneously filed against Camara.

Caron said a fully-fledged independent investigation could harm the ongoing criminal probe into the assault, but added he is open to an independent observer being brought in to monitor the police's work on the case.

Radio-Canada has learned that, 6 nights after Mamadi III Fara Camara was arrested, footage captured from a Highway 40 traffic cam provided key evidence to help free the man. (François Sauvé/Radio-Canada)

Neither Barth nor Caron would shed much light on the investigation. They did not detail what led to Camara's arrest, nor did they specify what set the man free after six nights in custody.

When asked by reporters why it took so long to find the evidence that ultimately freed Camara, Caron said investigators were working tirelessly and didn't stop just because Camara was arrested.

He said these types of investigations take time.

New witness being sought by investigators

The same day Camara was allowed to return home to his pregnant wife, police launched a new search.

The investigation is now centred around another person who was at the scene, police said.

On Friday, the SPVM set up a command post on Jean-Brillon Street in LaSalle.

They say a stolen red Hyundai Elantra connected to the Jan. 28 incident was found there and they are now looking for evidence, video footage and potential witnesses.

If police do manage to nab a new suspect, he will likely face a laundry list of serious charges, as Camara knows all too well.

The 31-year-old had been accused of disarming and injuring SPVM Const. Sanjay Vig during a routine traffic stop.

Along with attempted murder, he was also charged with aggravated assault against a police officer, disarming a police officer and discharging a prohibited firearm.

Mamadi III Fara Camara's defence lawyer said her client, who had no prior arrests, was very relieved but likely still in shock.  (Submitted)

The incident, which began around 4 p.m., led to a large-scale police operation in the Parc-Extension neighbourhood, just south of Highway 40.

It was several hours before Camara was arrested, and police were on the scene in the days that followed, interviewing witnesses and combing through evidence.

Officer shot, then he wasn't 

At first, police said an officer had been shot and was in hospital with serious injuries to the upper body. 

Later, police said it wasn't clear if the officer had been injured by a bullet or something else. And after he was released the next day, police still would not confirm the nature of Vig's injuries.

Regardless, when word got out that an officer had been injured, SPVM officers swarmed the area, blocked off streets and undertook a massive manhunt.

After Camara was arrested, his home was ransacked by police who were searching for the stolen service weapon, a neighbour told Radio-Canada.

That neighbour requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, but said investigators asked him multiple times if Camara had given him a gun.

Meanwhile, Camara's arrest is making waves across Quebec as his lawyer, politicians and advocacy groups call for an inquiry into his six-night detainment for a crime he did not commit.

Fo Niemi, who heads the anti-racism advocacy group Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, is among those who wants an independent investigation into the incident.

"This is very disturbing for a man of African descent and I think there are questions that must be answered not by the Montreal police, [but] by some independent authority either from the municipal or the provincial," he said. 

"We strongly urge this man to take legal action and file complaints."

With files from Radio-Canada