Montreal man 'seeking justice' over STM inspectors' use of force in Metro
Video of incident has already sparked outcry and calls for investigation by community groups, opposition
Earlier this month, two Montreal public transit inspectors swung their metal, telescoping batons several times during a failed attempt to restrain a young man over an unpaid Metro fare.
The violent incident was caught on video, and now 21-year-old Juliano Gray has come forward to identify himself as the man in that incident, saying he is "seeking justice."
At a news conference at Montreal's Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), Gray said Tuesday he was unable to hold onto his part-time dishwasher job because of the injuries sustained in the March 6 incident and post-traumatic stress.
It all began in a moving Metro car, he said, when inspectors approached him for playing with a soccer ball on his way to the Namur Metro station. The inspectors asked him to show his ticket stub to prove he had paid his fare.
Gray said he was told to get off at Snowdon to receive a fine for fare-dodging, but as several passengers got involved, he became disoriented.
He got off at Villa-Maria station thinking it was Snowdon, he said, and that's when things turned ugly.
"I got tackled on the wall, and then the one that had me on the wall tripped me, and I fell on the floor," he said. "As soon as I was on the floor, I got four elbows on the face, and that's when I understood it wasn't a typical arrest."
The inspectors told him to get on his stomach. In the video, he is seen on his back, raising his hands in surrender, screaming "That hurts!" and "I stop!" in French, while the officers swung their batons at his legs.
The video shows inspectors restraining Gray on the platform, his head centimetres away from an oncoming train, as he squirms, screams and gets smacked with metal.
"It was brutal and excessive force," Gray said. "I wish I am the last one in Montreal to be hurt like that."
Fearing for his safety and thinking the violence was only going to get worse, he said he felt he had to escape to save himself.
So he ran.
"I wasn't trying to run away from them. I was trying to run away from the pain."
'We don't want this to happen to another guy'
In a statement issued by CRARR, Gray admits he didn't pay his fare, but "no human being deserves the brutal aggression which could have killed me."
CRAAR representatives sat next to a visibly nervous Gray Tuesday, helping him along as he made his statement to the media, a stack of microphones and a row of cameras pointed at him.
Warning: Some viewers may find the following video disturbing.
Gray said he saw Montreal police were called to the scene and were looking for him, so he hid in some nearby bushes for about an hour before heading home.
"We don't want this to happen to another guy," he said, citing a knee injury that gave him pain for two weeks. "I should have stayed there. I lost my job."
Gray said he called the STM soon after the incident, apologizing for not paying his fare and causing a disturbance.
Incident caught on video
The video of the incident prompted calls for an investigation after it was released online and widely circulated. CRARR and other groups, as well as opposition politicians at Montreal city hall, have urged the STM to look into the matter.
CRARR's executive director, Fo Niemi, said the video images are shocking, and the "brutal beating of Juliano Gray is a new low for Montreal's race relations."
A former RCMP officer and CRARR advisor, Alain Babineau, said police officers are legally allowed to use a certain amount of force on individuals who commit a criminal offence — but not for municipal infractions.
The Metro inspectors, who do not have all the powers of other peace officers in Quebec, "may have interpreted him leaving the Metro as trying to evade," Babineau said.
But they should have used voice commands or got the Montreal police involved, he said. Their batons should only be used in defence, he said, not to subdue fare dodgers.
CRARR calls for inquiry
CRARR is calling on other witnesses to come forward.
The organization is also demanding that Mayor Valérie Plante launch an independent, external inquiry.
Niemi said CRARR has asked STM chair Philippe Schnobb to hold onto all the evidence, such as surveillance video footage of the incident, to assist with the inquiry.
He also wants officials to look into the possibility of pressing charges against the inspectors, he said.
Plante has said she is open to launching an independent investigation into the matter.
The STM has said the man was approached by inspectors because he was bothering other passengers.
Schnobb released a statement shortly before the opposition held a news conference last week, defending the officers' response. The man, he wrote, did not pay his fare.
"If a client refuses to co-operate, the inspectors have the power to make his arrest and hand the matter over to police as soon as possible," said STM spokesperson Amélie Régis an email to CBC.
"An investigation will determine whether charges of obstruction will be laid against him."