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Yellowknife RCMP cleared of wrongdoing in kneeing of handcuffed prisoner

An inmate's ribs were broken while in RCMP custody in July 2017. In a news release, RCMP say Edmonton Police Services investigated the incident and found that officers acted properly.

Man injured in Yellowknife detachment in July 2017; Edmonton Police Services says officers acted properly

An inmate's ribs were broken while in RCMP custody in July 2017. In a news release, RCMP say Edmonton Police Services investigated the incident and found that officers acted properly. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

Northwest Territories RCMP say an independent investigation has cleared it of any wrongdoing after a Yellowknife officer kneed a handcuffed prisoner in the back, fracturing two of the man's ribs.

The Edmonton Police Service was called in to investigate the July 18, 2017 incident, which occurred in one of the jail cells at the Yellowknife detachment. Though it has not released the report or provided any excerpts from it, the Northwest Territories RCMP issued a press release on Thursday saying the Edmonton police found "the force used was necessary and reasonable in all circumstances."

​RCMP said when the man was being taken into custody he became uncooperative "resisting the RCMP member's efforts to lodge him in the cell block."

The man who was hurt, Michael Cotchilly, was later sentenced to a total of 105 days in jail for assaulting a peace officer, threatening the officer, and breaching his probation. Cotchilly admitted during the sentencing he was very intoxicated that night.

RCMP 'dished out their punishment': lawyer

During his sentencing hearing in October 2017, Cotchilly and his lawyer urged the judge to watch a cellblock video of the incident. Lawyer Jay Bran asked the judge to take into account that the RCMP had "dished out their punishment at the time."

"My client is dragged into a drunk tank cell, handcuffed behind his back. He's laying on the floor and an officer decides to give him a knee strike to the ribs," said Bran during the sentencing hearing. "There's no fight, there's no assault, there's no spitting."

The judge decided not to view the video, saying it would not assist with the sentencing of Cotchilly.

My client is dragged into a drunk tank cell, handcuffed behind his back. He's laying on the floor and an officer decides to give him a knee strike to the ribs.- Jay Bran, defence lawyer

Cotchilly admitted that earlier that night he had spit blood on the sleeve of an officer, shortly after he was arrested in a Yellowknife home. He also admitted he threatened the officer, and resisted as he was transported to the detachment.

Cotchilly spent 24 hours in the hospital after complaining of chest pain following the incident.

It is standard practice when an inmate is injured in custody to have an external police service investigate. According to the RCMP press release, Edmonton Police Services (EPS) found that the RCMP officers acted properly. 

"There was no evidence to support any inference that police engaged in any unlawful or unreasonable conduct that would give rise to an offence," the news release said.

The statement said the N.W.T. RCMP's criminal operations officer in charge reviewed the report and agreed with the findings. CBC News has requested a copy of the report.

With files from Richard Gleeson