Toronto man sues police for $5M after violent arrest caught on camera

Police say a video of officers punching and kicking a 21-year-old man during an arrest "doesn’t tell the whole story."

Police never charged 21-year-old man after violent arrest near family's store

WARNING DISTURBING VIDEO: Violent arrest captured on camera

8 years ago
Duration 2:57
A Toronto man is suing police after this arrest in a parking lot near his family’s Rexdale-area store. The man was never charged and suffered head injuries following the incident.

A Toronto-area man is seeking $5 million in damages from police after being beaten during a mistaken arrest that was caught on camera.

Santokh Bola, 21, of Woodbridge, Ont. was arrested after getting out of his vehicle in an Islington Avenue parking lot near his grandfather's store, India Bazaar, around 8 a.m. on Nov. 1.

Santokh Bola's legal team said the 21-year-old suffered this black eye following a wrongful arrest by Toronto police officers. (Submitted)
Bola's lawyers, speaking at a Wednesday news conference, said he was released moments after being taken into a police cruiser. Later, his family took him to hospital where he was treated for head injuries. His lawyer says he's also suffering from emotional trauma.

Bola's family has lodged a formal complaint with the Toronto Police Service. They've also filed a statement of claim at the Superior Court of Justice against the officers involved in the arrest as well as Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders and the Toronto Police Services Board.

"These people need to be held accountable," said Sonia Bola, who spoke to reporters on her brother's behalf as he has developmental disabilities.

Toronto police spokesman Mark Pugash said the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) has opened an investigation into the matter and police will cooperate fully

'Video doesn't tell the whole story'

But, Pugash cautioned, the "video doesn't tell the whole story," about the incident and that the OIPRD will have to decide if the officers used an appropriate level of force given the information they had at the time. 

Toronto police union president Mike McCormack agreed with Pugash. 

He told CBC News the force feels it's "being judged by a snippet of a video when there's a much longer, broader story about what commands our police officers were responding to.

"What kind of commands did they give this individual?," McCormack asked. "Did the individual comply with those commands? And why did they have to use physical force which may be justified."

He added that the officers are very stressed about the situation.

"It's difficult when they're doing their jobs and being judged on this video and there's a bigger story," McCormack said. 

Pugash said officers were called to the area after someone called 911 about a man with a knife, a call police treat as an "urgent and dangerous" situation. Officers felt it was necessary to immediately arrest Bola, who Pugash said fit the description provided to police.

Pugash also suggested Bola was resisting arrest, saying "very few people want to be arrested ... people resist. It can get messy."

None of the claims has been proven in court.

Video shows Bola pleading with officers

A bystander's video — which lasts nearly three minutes long and is shot from a nearby window — doesn't show the moments leading up to the arrest. In the video, officers approach Bola with their guns unholstered, while Bola yells "I didn't do anything, sir" as the arrest begins.

Santokh Bola, right, sits alongside his father, Sukminder Bola, at a Wednesday news conference. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)
Bola's family said police told them they had been investigating a burglary in the area.

The officer appears to kick the suspect three times, getting him on the ground. From there, the same officer punches the man in the head 12 times in rapid succession.

"F—k you," Bola yells at one point, amid screams of apparent pain.

A second officer, who arrives at the scene moments after the video begins recording, assists with the arrest.

"I didn't do anything! I didn't do anything!" Bola yells while pinned to the ground.

The first officer, with his hand on the back of the Bola's neck, then throws three more punches into the side of the man's head. 

Santokh Bola was punched in the head at least 15 times during the arrest. (Submitted)
"Let me go, please," Bola yells.

"You're under arrest. Let's go, now," one of the officers can be heard telling Bola as he begs the officers to speak with his family.

The officers continue to hold him down while appearing to put handcuffs on. Two more officers arrive on the scene moments later.

"Sir, I beg you. I beg you. I beg you," the man says as his face appears to be pushed down into the pavement.

With the man cuffed, the police appear to search the man while he's on the ground.

Just before the video ends, Bola appears to jut his leg toward one of the officers and is kneed in the stomach. 

Family wants answers: lawyer

Michael Smitiuch, one of Bola's lawyers, said his client had done nothing wrong in the moments leading up to his arrest.

This is not a fight against police, it's about holding the officers involved accountable.- Michael Smitiuch, lawyer representing Bola family

During the arrest, Smitiuch said, Bola's behavior was completely appropriate.

"This is not a fight against police, it's about holding the officers involved accountable," Smitiuch said.

"The family deserves answers."

Ken Byers, co-counsel for the case, said the force used was "obviously excessive" and said the officers involved should have stopped for a second to speak with Bola, who wasn't armed and wasn't trying to flee.

"Effective police relies upon respect and trust," Byers said.

"Incidents like this erode that public faith."

Sonia Bola said the family met with officials at 23 Division, who said they believed proper protocols were followed and offered no apology for what took place.

Ontario's Special Investigations Unit, which looks into cases involving serious injury, death or sexual assault involving the police, hasn't been involved in this case. 

Pugash said the SIU wasn't called in because the injuries sustained by Bola didn't meet the organization's threshold. 

Bola himself, meanwhile, has been "traumatized" by the event and still flinches anytime he sees a police officer or cruiser, his sister said.

With files from Linda Ward