Teens allege police mistreatment in robbery investigation

A group of teens have filed a formal complaint against Toronto police after they say they were unjustly arrested, strip-searched and intimidated for a crime they never committed.

One teen alleges discrimination

A group of teens have filed a formal complaint against Toronto police after they say they were unjustly arrested, strip-searched and intimidated for a crime they never committed.

The complaint, filed to Ontario police watchdog Office of the Independent Police Review Director, centres on an incident that occurred in the early evening on Oct. 24 in the St. Clair Avenue West and Lansdowne Avenue area.

This teen says he believes he was discriminated against when police arrested and charged him on Oct. 24. (CBC)

It came after police were alerted to an alleged assault on a woman on a park bench near Earlscourt Park at around 4:55 p.m., the complaint says. Police believed two men wearing dark hoodies had assaulted her and then stolen her cellphone, the teens said.

CBC News is not revealing the identities of the teens, who are all 16.

At that time, three of the teens who lodged the complaint were playing in a school soccer game at Earlscourt Park in front of a group of teachers and parents. After the game ended at around 5:30 p.m., the three met up with another two teens and walked down Regal Road to the top of a public stairway at Davenport Road, according to the complaint.

The group says that's when they were confronted by two officers. A sixth teen then arrived, and shortly afterwards, between seven and 10 additional officers came to the scene.

"They said we fit the descriptions. Apparently the description for me was an Asian wearing a black hoodie," said the sixth teen, who said he was actually wearing a blue hooded sweatshirt.

Another teen also said he was wearing a hooded sweatshirt.

They were asked to get on their knees, handcuffed, and then subjected to a pat-down and a frisk, says the complaint.

When some of the teens asked about what was going on, they say officers told them to "shut the f*** up" or "sit the f*** down."

Another teen said a female officer grabbed him by throat without provocation, picked up his phone which had been taken out of his pocket, and deliberately dropped it on the ground and kicked it.

The teen, who had his handcuffs removed and was then let go, says he was threatened with arrest when he tried to get the badge numbers of the officers in question.

In custody for hours

Three of the teens were told they were under arrest for robbery and taken to the police station, where they say they were all strip-searched and held for four hours in custody.

"I felt disgusted. That has never happened to me before. I just didn't know how to really react to the situation," said another one of the teens who was arrested.

"The language of the police was appalling. Plus their behaviour was completely unwarranted," said the mother of another teen who was arrested.

While in the detention room, one of the boys started peeling paint off the walls "because he was alone in this room for four hours," she said.

"And the officer said, 'If I see you doing that again I am going to cut your balls off.'"

Police charged the sixth teen with possession of marijuana, and that matter is still before the courts. He and another teen were later released.

But the third teen, who was the only black teen among the group, was held overnight.

He said he thought at the time the whole situation was "ridiculous."

"Because I am completely innocent and they have no evidence that connects me with the crime. So how could they be doing this?"

He said he was never questioned directly by police about the robbery, even though he was later charged with robbery. That charge was later dropped.

The teen says his trust in police has been shaken, and the incident will stay with him for the rest of his life.

"I knew that my friends were being released and it was running through my mind why am I the one who is being held?" he said.

"If you are not white or if you're not from a specific area, then you have to be cautious because [police] will try to mess with you."

Lawyer Davin Charney was hired by the families of the teens to file the complaint.

"It is particularly concerning because we are dealing with youth and these are people who are vulnerable," he said.

Toronto police refused to comment on the specifics of the case. But a spokesperson said officers can conduct strip searches if they have reasonable grounds to believe the suspect poses a safety risk.