Police watchdog orders Thunder Bay police to reinvestigate Ojibway man's wrongful arrest

Samuel Pervais was at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong coffee cup when a Thunder Bay police cruiser suddenly pulled up and blocked his path.

Holding a Robin's Donuts coffee cup led to Samuel Pervais's arrest for trespassing

Samuel Pervais, who was wrongfully arrested in Thunder Bay for trespassing, had the wrong coffee cup at the wrong time. (Facebook)

Samuel Pervais was in a "good mood" that January Saturday morning. Early for a medical appointment, he bought himself a coffee from Robin's Donuts and was strolling down the sidewalk when a Thunder Bay police cruiser suddenly pulled up and blocked his path.

Little did he know that the Robin's Donuts coffee cup in his hand would lead to his arrest for trespassing and an eventual breakdown at a hospital later that day.

It was all a case of mistaken identity — Pervais was at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong coffee cup in Thunder Bay.

"I just froze," said the Fort William First Nation man. "The first thing that came to my head was, 'I have a doctor's appointment. Let me go or charge me.'"

Police watchdog orders new review

Ontario's police watchdog, the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), has ordered Thunder Bay's acting Police Chief Sylvie Hauth to reinvestigate a complaint filed by Pervais over the incident.

After an initial internal review, Thunder Bay police dismissed Pervais' complaint alleging the arresting officers used "unlawful or unnecessary" force in his arrest.

Ontario's Independent Police Review Director Gerry McNeilly is conducting a sweeping investigation of Thunder Bay police over allegations of systemic racism. (Canadian Press)

The OIPRD found several problems with the two arresting officers' actions, according to an Oct. 5 letter provided to CBC News.

The OIPRD said it wanted to know how Pervais could be legally detained for trespassing when he wasn't in the Robin's shop at the time of his arrest, according to the letter.

The police watchdog also questioned why Pervais was arrested when one of the officers knew the Ojibway man did not fit the description of a suspect described by the 911 dispatcher, according to the letter.

Thunder Bay police spokesperson Chris Adams said the service will "always co-operate and follow OIPRD directions regarding the investigation of complaints."

The OIPRD is currently reviewing dozens of Thunder Bay police cases dating back to 1990 as part of a sweeping investigation into allegations of systemic racism. Sen. Murray Sinclair is also leading an Ontario Civilian Police Commission investigation of the Thunder Bay police board.

Pervais believes he's a victim of systemic racism.

"They probably racially profiled me," he said.

Robin's Donuts coffee cup led to arrest

At 8:23 a.m. on Jan. 21, a server at Robin's Donuts called 911 to report that man in his 50s, who was wearing a ball cap and a jean shirt, grew agitated and started swearing at her after she asked about his daughter. The server told the 911 dispatcher that the man made a "gesture" as if he were about to throw a bag at her, then walked out of the doughnut shop, according to Thunder Bay police's investigative report.

Pervais said he never wears ball caps.

Const. Matt Hanchuck was the first to respond. He noticed Pervais with the Robin's Donuts coffee cup and began to follow him in the cruiser.

"The male ignored Hanchuck and continued to walk away," said the police report. "Const. Hanchuck advised police communications that he was with a suspect who was unco-operative."

Hanchuck claimed Pervais swore at him. Pervais denies he swore.

Acting Thunder Bay police chief Sylvie Hauth. (Cathy Alex/CBC )

'Did not match the clothing description'

Const. Ken Ogima was also in the vicinity and went to the Robin's Donuts shortly after the 911 call. He noticed Pervais walking out.

"Const. Ogima took note that the male did not match the clothing description," said the police report. "However, the male's height did appear consistent with the complainant's information and he was holding a Robin's coffee cup."

While Ogima was in the Robin's shop speaking with the server, he received a call from Hanchuck that a suspect was being unco-operative. Ogima went to back up Hanchuck and "arrested the male for trespassing," said the police report.

Pervais was put into Ogima's cruiser and taken to Robin's Donuts where the server said police had the wrong guy.

Pervais then began to have chest pains. Pervais said the officers left him alone to wait for an ambulance, but Ogima claims he stayed with him until paramedics arrived.

"I had a meltdown in the hospital," said Pervais. "I was covering my face the whole five hours. I had a mental breakdown."

Thunder Bay's District Jail where Samuel Pervais has previously spent 27 days in solitary confinement. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Pervais said fear gripped him that he was going to be sent back into solitary confinement at the Thunder Bay District Jail. He once spent 27 days in solitary confinement on suicide watch waiting for a court appearance, in a cell with the light blazing 24-7.

Previous arrest led to solitary confinement 

He was arrested in September 2015 following a confrontation with his father and nephew over his then 15-year-old daughter who skipped school that day. Pervais said he was vocal about suicidal feelings after his arrest and was put into solitary confinement. He said didn't eat for the first 10 days.

"It broke my spirit," he said.

Pervais said Adam Capay, who spent four years in solitary confinement awaiting trial on a murder charge, was a few cells over. He remembers once watching through a slot in his Plexiglas cell door as guards slammed Capay to the ground.

Pervais said he was put into the mental health diversion court program for a year.

The January incident with Thunder Bay police brought forward the trauma he suffered while in solitary confinement, said Pervais. He now writes down important events because he has trouble remembering.

"Now, I won't even go the Robin's Donuts in that area because I have flashbacks," he said.

The results of the reinvestigation of Pervais's complaint are expected by the end of the month.