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Police watchdog clears Whistler RCMP of wrongdoing in arrest that led to broken wrist

Independent Investigations Office says no evidence of unnecessary force in Aug. 25 arrest
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B.C.’s police watchdog found no evidence that unnecessary force was used in the Whistler RCMP’s arrest of a man last summer that led to a fractured wrist.

“In summary, the evidence as a whole leads to the conclusion that AP’s [the affected person’s] arrest was lawful, and was carried out with no more force than was necessary, given AP’s physical resistance,” wrote Ronald J. MacDonald, chief civilian director of B.C.’s Independent Investigations Office (IIO), in his Jan. 13 report.

On the afternoon of Aug. 25, three Whistler RCMP members responded to a 911 call alleging a man had uttered threats to a woman during a domestic incident. In the course of the arrest, “there was a scuffle” before the suspect was taken to the ground and handcuffed, the report said. After being apprehended, it was discovered the man had suffered a fractured wrist, and the IIO was notified.

When the officers arrived, they found the suspect in front of the building, where they said he initially appeared calm, but investigators said he “became non-compliant when he was told he was being detained because of the [woman’s] complaint to police about him.” One officer then reportedly took the suspect’s arm behind his back and applied a handcuff to his left wrist, before all three officers found themselves unable to “complete the cuffing process because they could not control [the man’s] right arm.”

In his written statement (both the suspect and original complainant declined to be interviewed in person by the IIO, instead submitting their written accounts through a lawyer), the man said he was having a panic attack at the time and said that he “began to have a full body tremor” as a result of multiple sclerosis. He described a condition in which his “entire body turned very static or rigid,” unable to move his arms or legs. He noted that his hands were “shaking uncontrollably” and said “it can be quite violent looking.” He goes on to say one of the officers tried to “tackle” him to the ground, and said he was initially unable to get down on the ground because of his disability.

The officers’ statements described the suspect as variously “pulling away,” “twisting” and “spinning,” with the subject officer characterizing him as an “active resister,” and another officer calling his behaviour “assaultive.”

The police and suspect’s accounts diverge here somewhat. One officer told the IIO he saw the suspect twisting and pulling away from police, his left arm still held by the subject officers while his right arm was free and “flailing.” The officer goes on to say he was concerned that the subject officer and other officer, both physically smaller than the suspect, might lose control and need to escalate their use of force. This officer said he ran towards them, intending to tackle the suspect to the ground, but then decided to grab the subject officer and suspect together in a “bear hug” and pin them against the side of the police cruiser.

The suspect’s written account said the officer came running “and at full speed smashed my head into one of the police vehicles. He used his entire body to throw me into the police vehicle. I immediately sustained a concussion, was lightheaded, nauseous and had blurred vision.”

The IIO found nothing in the suspect’s medical records suggesting he had suffered, or claimed to have suffered, any head injury in the course of the arrest. “It seems more likely that [he] was simply restrained and pinned against the vehicle as described by [Witnessing Officer 1] before being taken to the ground,” MacDonald wrote.

The suspect also alleged that, once on the ground, the subject officer “stood on my left wrist and tightened the handcuff until I heard and felt a snap.”

The original complainant, however, made no mention of witnessing the subject officer standing over the suspect and crushing his left wrist with his boot, although she did report overhearing her partner “yelp in pain and I heard something about his wrist.”

It doesn’t appear any of the three officers involved were alerted at any point to the possibility that the man’s wrist had been injured. While at the detachment, the suspect told police he had concerns about his mental health, and wanted to kill himself. He was then apprehended under the Mental Health Act and taken to hospital.

An injury to the man’s left wrist was subsequently discovered, and an attending physician wrote that there were also signs of previous bone degeneration in the wrist.

In his conclusion, MacDonald wrote that the three attending officers were acting lawfully when they first detained and arrested the suspect, who had reportedly threatened to punch his partner and had raised his fist to do so, “an action that, in law, would amount to an assault. There were ample grounds for arrest.”

In the man’s account, he acknowledged he was unwilling to cooperate with police, but maintained he had done nothing wrong and was not deliberately resisting arrest, “explaining the flailing, twisting, and spinning described” as a manifestation of his multiple sclerosis.

“It is not necessary to evaluate the reliability of that explanation, or to reach a conclusion as to whether [the suspect’s] movements were voluntary or involuntary. That is because, by [his] own account his movements were probably ‘quite violent looking.’ From the perspective of the arresting officers, the only reasonable response was to get [him] under control, into handcuffs and into the back of a police car.”

Conversely, MacDonald said the suspect’s statement that an officer stood on his left wrist while he was cuffed is “simply difficult to reconcile logically with the fact that, at the time, [the subject officer] would have been holding [his] left arm beside him or behind his back, having just taken him down onto the ground to complete cuffing.”

The IIO also found it significant that the original complainant, who was watching the arrest and was “clearly concerned” about her partner’s welfare, did not allege any such action on the subject officer’s part.

“When witnesses to an event give conflicting accounts to investigators, it is almost never possible to determine with certainty which are true and which are not,” MacDonald wrote. “The police evidence does not carry any of the hallmarks of being exaggerated or self-serving, and appears to be reliable. The same cannot be said of the evidence of [the suspect and complainant].”

MacDonald also noted that, because the suspect and complainant did not meet the IIO in person, “issues apparent on the face of their written statements cannot be explored and possibly reconciled. Indeed, while a written statement is still evidence, it is difficult to give it as much weight as a full in-person statement.”

The IIO’s decision was based on witness statements, police dispatch records, audio recordings of a 911 call and other phone calls and police radio transmissions, closed-circuit footage from police cells, and medical evidence.

To read the full report, visit iiobc.ca.