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Vancouver: Message from Police Accountability Lawyer

28 February 2017 at 02:28 | 1610 views

This week, we are in BC (British Columbia, Canada) Supreme Court representing Solomon Akintoye in an important fight against police brutality. We’re arguing that our client, a Nigerian refugee living with mental illness, was brutally beaten and unjustly arrested by Vancouver police officers while on his way to a job interview in 2011.

Solomon was walking down Richards Street in downtown Vancouver when officers approached him. They believed he might be someone with an outstanding warrant and asked for identification. He handed over his health card proving he was not the man they were looking for – but that wasn’t enough.

While he was being detained, one of the constables asked Solomon to remove his left hand from his pocket, but did not explain why that was necessary. Solomon indicated to the officer that he had his hand in his pocket to keep his pants from sliding down, and that he wished to keep it there.

The officer didn’t react well to Solomon’s response, and what happened next is truly shocking. Officer Jeremiah Birnbaum called Solomon a derogatory name, grabbed his arm and threw him against the hood of the police cruiser. His partner, Jennifer White, grabbed Solomon’s other arm, and the two officers dragged him to the ground. Solomon panicked and tried to turn himself over at which point four more officers arrived on scene.

They used extreme physical force against Solomon, and on the stand this week he recalled with painful clarity the extent of the violence.

In cross examination, Constable David Goodall testified that he punched Solomon “as hard as [he] could” in the ribs in order to obtain compliance. Solomon says that while he was on the ground, officers kneed and kicked him in the stomach and legs. His face was smashed to the ground.

All the while Solomon said he was yelling “pain”, both in English and in his native Yoruba, but the officers continued. Even after officers determined Solomon was the wrong man, he was taken to jail, stripped searched and held overnight. He felt sub-human, and now, though the physical scars have healed, the psychological ones have not. Solomon suffers from PTSD and flashbacks, especially when he hears police sirens or sees a police vehicle drive by.

Solomon’s case reveals a troublesome pattern beneath the surface of so many police encounters with Black people in Canada. Why, despite providing them with identification, did the officers refuse to believe him? A similar situation unfolded when a UBC student was confronted by transit police for not having proof he paid his fare. When the student provided his name, the officer phoned it in to verify but refused to believe it was his real name when the results showed no criminal records and no negative police contacts.

In Solomon’s case, the officers would ultimately say he was arrested for “officer safety” reasons despite the fact that he had no weapons and no history of violence. While the Supreme Court of Canada has stated that officers who have legitimate safety concerns may conduct a pat-down search for weapons (something that was never proposed by either of the officers in Solomon’s case), we believe this case is about much more than officer safety. Ultimately, it’s about control, and how police are often slow to believe and quick to punish those who challenge their authority, especially when that challenge comes from people who are marginalized and people of colour.

My co-counsel Neil Chantler and I hope the Judge finds in Solomon’s favour and sends a clear message to police that the rights of people like Solomon to be free from unlawful detention must be respected. The trial ends today and the Judge’s decision will likely be released later this year.

In the meantime, our fight continues and it wouldn’t be possible without your help. It is only because of our community of compassionate supporters that we are able to seek justice for Solomon and so many others who are harmed by police misconduct.

Please consider donating to help us fight for policing practices that are consistent with human rights, fairness and equality.

Sincerely,

Douglas King, Police Accountability Lawyer

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