Wrongfully convicted Toronto man who spent years in prison launching $4.5M lawsuit against police

A Toronto man who was acquitted after spending more than five years in prison says police planted evidence during his arrest and conspired at his trial. He's seeking $4.5 million in damages.

Nosakhare Ohenhen tells CBC Toronto about lawsuit he's launching Wednesday against Toronto police

Nosakhare Ohenhen was acquitted in September after a judge determined his charter rights were "shockingly ignored." (Mark Bochsler/CBC)

It was a summer afternoon in Parkdale and Nosakhare Ohenhen was pinned to the ground, confused.

"What am I under arrest for? What's going on?" he asked, as police officers converged around him in August 2008.

He couldn't hear much, but during an interview with CBC Toronto Tuesday night — on the eve of launching his lawsuit against Toronto police — Ohenhen said the officers said a few words that slipped through the commotion..

"We'll think of something, we'll think of something."

The officers searched Ohenhen and the interior of his Jaguar S-Type. Later, at his trial almost two years later, they alleged they turned up cocaine, marijuana and a fully-loaded handgun.

Ohenhen was convicted on 17 charges and sentenced to nine years in prison.

"At the first trial the judge was really blinded by the officers and their lies," Ohenhen said..

Charter rights 'shockingly ignored'

Ohenhen served more than five years of the sentence before being released on parole in 2013.

But at a new trial ordered by the court of appeal in September, the now 36-year-old was acquitted on all 17 charges.

In his ruling, Justice Michael G. Quigley determined that Ohenhen was arbitrarily detained, unreasonably searched "and that his right to retain and instruct counsel without delay… was totally and shockingly ignored by police."

Quigley wrote the arrest raised the concern that Ohenhen was targeted "at least in part because he was a black man driving an expensive car." The judge also wrote that improper police conduct during the search represented "a strong suspicion, if not compelling evidence" that the officers may have planted the drugs on Ohenhen.

The resounding acquittal is now the foundation of a $4.5 million lawsuit against the Toronto Police Service and five of its officers.

Officers acted with 'conspiratory intent'

The lawsuit contends that the officers conspired against Ohenhen and that the drugs used as evidence had in fact been seized from another person before Ohenhen was arrested.

It claims the officers also conspired to make sure their recollections of the incident lined up before they testified during the initial trial.

"Through their actions and omissions with conspiratory intent, they allowed [Ohenhen] to be wrongfully imprisoned based on information they knew or should have known was false," the lawsuit reads.

Ohenhen, who had previous drug trafficking convictions, believes the ordeal is indicative of a larger systemic issue within Toronto Police, and he wants the lawsuit to send a message that racial profiling and manipulation of the justice system is unacceptable.

"I think it's time that this all comes to an end," said Ohenhen. "There's a lot of people that's been affected by this kind of police behaviour and I think it has to come to a stop."

His lawyer, Michael Smitiuch says the "strongly worded" acquittal was unlike anything he's seen in 18 years practising law.

"It was something I'd never seen before," he said. "I was frankly deeply disturbed by what I read."

Smitiuch says he and Ohenhen are also considering adding the crown attorneys from the first trial to the lawsuit, if they determine the crown should have known that the case against Ohenhen was flawed.

Toronto Police have not yet been served with the lawsuit and therefore could not comment.