Advertisement

He was accused of having a gun at school. Now, he's suing the TDSB and Toronto police

Ahmaud Benjamin Cockburn, 18, is suing the Toronto District School Board and the Toronto Police Services Board for negligence, alleging he was the victim and not the perpetrator of the fight. (Keith Burgess/CBC - image credit)
Ahmaud Benjamin Cockburn, 18, is suing the Toronto District School Board and the Toronto Police Services Board for negligence, alleging he was the victim and not the perpetrator of the fight. (Keith Burgess/CBC - image credit)

Ahmaud Benjamin Cockburn says he was having lunch in the gymnasium of his Toronto school when a fight broke out earlier this year. Not long after, the 18-year-old was arrested after it was reported he had a gun.

Now, Cockburn is suing the Toronto District School Board and the Toronto Police Services Board for negligence, alleging he was a victim and not the perpetrator in the incident on Jan. 19 that plunged Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute into lockdown.

On Tuesday, Cockburn told CBC Toronto police never charged him and have failed to apologize.

"They released me, they gave me back my things, they told me 'We're releasing you...no charges,'" he said.

The Toronto Police Services Board and TPS declined to comment on the suit, saying they could not do so with the case before the courts. TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird told CBC Toronto the board's external counsel "will be responding to the lawsuit in short order."

Cockburn is also suing six students for assault and battery causing bodily injury, according to a statement of claim filed on May 9 in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Still, Cockburn said the ordeal has left him traumatized and feeling unwelcome in his community.

"Since I've been through this situation I don't even feel accepted in this community, you know. I can't leave the house without getting looks or being pointed at," he said.

I was arrested, stripped searched, questioned, taken down to the jail and put in a cell. - Ahmaud Benjamin Cockburn

"[The] majority of the students who live here go to that school, so they know. But they don't know what really went down that day, they just know the stories that they were told.

"There's ongoing PTSD — I've been seeing a therapist for that," he added.

'They call me the N-word,' student says

The $2-million lawsuit alleges Cockburn was having lunch when a group of students, including some of the student defendants, began fighting and "insulting other students in the gymnasium by using racially charged epithets."

Cockburn — who did not see any teacher, supervisor, or lunch monitor on duty — intervened to break up the fight and told the students not to use those words, according to the statement of claim.

Cockurn said he heard one of the boys used the N-word and tried tried to explain "the use of this word can be very hurtful and you don't know the history behind it."

"Their attention now is directed toward me and … that's when they call me the N-word," he said.

At one point, two of the students named in the suit held Cockburn while the other students named in the claim "repeatedly punched him in the face," according to the suit. Cockburn suffered "serious injuries, including a broken nose," it adds.

Keith Burgess/CBC
Keith Burgess/CBC

With Cockburn "in a bloody and seriously injured state," the students ran out of the gymnasium and no one came to "aid or rescue" him, the suit says.

As Cockburn went to retrieve his belongings from where he had been sitting, another student, who was not involved in the incident, "erroneously began yelling that … Cockburn had a gun," it says.

"This false allegation … set the remaining students into a frenzy."

The suit goes on to say Cockburn went to seek help and tell the vice principal what happened. While in the vice principal's office, someone at the school called Toronto police to report that Cockburn had a gun.

When officers arrived, they searched but found no gun, according to the statement of claim.

Police never found a gun, says Cockburn

Cockburn believes anti-Black racism played a part in why he wasn't believed.

"When I was in the office, my face was obviously very bloody because I was just attacked. My nose was broken and there was blood on my shoe. The first thing the police officer asked me ... was, whose blood was that?" he told CBC Toronto.

"Not, 'Are you OK?'"

According to the statement of claim, police detained Cockburn without offering him any medical attention.

The statement of claim says police failed to follow a proper concussion protocol, failed to permit Cockburn to attend the hospital and exacerbated his injuries by restraining him and placing him in a headlock.

As for the TDSB, the suit alleges it was was negligent because it failed to properly supervise students, failed to attend to Cockburn after he was assaulted and failed to ensure its security cameras were operational.

According to the statement, if the security camera facing the gym had been working that day, it would have recorded the boys fleeing from the gym after the assault, which would have corroborated Cockburn's story and could have kept him from being detained.

'In a cell for something I didn't do'

Andrew Kizik, Cockburn's guardian, recalled how upset he was when he got the call from the school saying Cockburn had been hurt. He said when he arrived at the school, the police were not helpful.

Kizik says he works as a first responder and asked right away if Cockburn had gotten any medical attention.

"The police officer that was there was like, 'Oh, you want medical?' I said, 'Yes...' He'd been punched in the face numerous times," Kizik said. "The police are here detaining my son and that I'm not getting any help from the police in caring for him."

Kizik said he later learned that the N-word had been used and that the incident was "a racially motivated" one.

Despite no gun being recovered, Cockburn said he was held in police custody for several hours following his arrest.

"From 4:30 till 10 p.m., I was in a cell for something I didn't do," he told CBC Toronto.

"There was no BB gun that they could say, oh it looked real," Cockburn said. "There was nothing and I was arrested, stripped searched, questioned, taken down to the jail and put in a cell."