Toronto police apologize for 'you're going to get AIDS' comment caught on video
'You cannot get HIV/AIDS from spit. We're #sorry,' Toronto police tweet
Toronto police issued an official apology Wednesday regarding the conduct of an officer who made an inaccurate comment about the transmission of HIV/AIDS in a controversial arrest caught on video earlier this week.
The apology came through a series of tweets, noting that the service would hire an HIV/AIDS expert to educate its staff about the virus.
1st step in righting a wrong: <a href="https://twitter.com/TPS51Div">@TPS51Div</a> officer's comment simply wrong. You cannot get HIV/AIDS from spit. We're <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/sorry?src=hash">#sorry</a>. ^vk—@TorontoPolice
2nd step in righting a wrong: <a href="https://twitter.com/TPS51Div">@TPS51Div</a> will bring in outside HIV/AIDS expert to educate their officers. ^vk—@TorontoPolice
3rd step in righting a wrong: A Professional Standards/Internal Affairs investigation into <a href="https://twitter.com/TPS51Div">@TPS51Div</a> incident is underway. ^vk—@TorontoPolice
"It was the right thing to do," police spokesman Const. Victor Kwong said of the apology. "What was done was wrong and when you do something wrong you have to make amends for it."
The apology appeared to refer only to a male officer saying "he's going to spit in your face and you're going to get AIDS" — apparently referring to the suspect — and said nothing about the use of a Taser on the suspect while he appears to be restrained on the ground in the footage.
Police have launched an internal investigation into what's seen in the video, filmed by Waseem Khan Tuesday morning after he spotted an altercation between officers and a man in the back of a cruiser near Ryerson University.
"Two officers grabbed him out of the drivers' side rear door, he was placed on the ground, and this is where it really disturbed me — he was kicked and stomped in the head by police officers," Khan said.
At the time, Khan said the man appeared to be restrained, with his hands behind his back.
"As soon as I saw this, I told my wife 'I've got to jump out and record this.'"
'You're going to get AIDS'
The resulting video appears to show police officers using a stun gun on the man as he lies on the ground near Dundas Street East and Church Street. An officer is also seen in the video kicking the man while he is on the ground surrounded by officers.
Another male officer, wearing a tuque, can be heard on the video speaking to bystanders and makes the comment about the suspect transmitting HIV/AIDS.
"From what I could see, he was completely unresponsive," Khan recalled, adding the incident was "disturbing" to witness.
He also slammed the officer's threatening language about AIDS.
"You don't get HIV from someone spitting on you ... I think this speaks to the way this officer or these officers look toward certain demographics of people," he said.
Khan added he was about nine metres away from the incident while recording the video, and was "taken aback" when two officers told him that if he was witnessing the incident they would have to seize his phone.
Mark Pugash, a spokesman for Toronto Police Services, previously told CBC that police "don't have that authority."
"We've told our people, life in 2017 is people will be filming you, and provided they're not obstructing or interfering in any way — and it doesn't look like that's happening in this case — then they're entitled to keep on filming," he said.
Police association 'disturbed' by aspects of incident
Toronto Police Association President Mike McCormack said he's "disturbed" by some of the comments officers made during the incident and that those involved will have to answer for their actions.
McCormack said the comments came amid a "dynamic" situation where a female officer was injured and hospitalized, and several construction workers were also hurt. The video, he said, doesn't show everything that was going on.
"There may be other circumstances the video didn't capture," he said, noting several other people captured footage of the arrest.
Police say incident began at downtown shelter
Police have painted a different picture of what happened before and during the filmed incident.
Pugash said police were called to Seaton House homeless shelter for an assault, and arrested a man.
"He then spat at a police officer (and) punched her in the face, knocking her to the ground," Pugash said. "Some construction workers came to her assistance — one of whom was bitten by the man."
Pugash said police put the man in the back of a police car but had to remove him after he kicked out the window.
A first round of Tasering "didn't work" because the man's layers of clothing, he added. The man also continued to bite an officer, Pugash said.
"The man displayed continued, high-level violence... 90 per cent of what happened is not in the video," he said.
The man arrested appeared in court Wednesday and has been charged with nine offences, including two counts of assault, three counts of assaulting a peace officer, and one count of assault with the intent to resist arrest.
Toronto police have said they are reviewing the incident.
Mayor Tory finds footage 'disconcerting'
In a statement, the office of Mayor John Tory said he has seen the video and "finds it disconcerting."
"It's important to keep in mind that we do not know the full context of what happened before or after the video footage," the statement continued. "The Mayor believes it is appropriate that the Toronto Police will be reviewing the matter internally."
Khan said the officers trying to make him stop recording makes the officers look "guilty."
"If they were doing their job properly, you would think they'd welcome any evidence," he said.
He also maintained that the use of force seemed inappropriate.
"I can't help but think this situation would've went completely different if this was some white guy in a suit in the financial district," Khan said.
"I don't think he would've been pulled out of the car, stomped on, and dragged over to the curb."
With files from John Rieti