An Edmonton man has filed a $650,000 lawsuit against a pair of city police officers and the police chief.
Jean Claude Rukundo claims he was the victim of an unlawful arrest and excessive use of force.
On July 27, 2018, Rukundo's wife was involved in a traffic accident in the middle of the day. She called her husband and he rushed to the scene. He was on the phone with their insurance company when Det. Pierre Lemire and Const. Owen Staudinger arrived.
"Lemire's approach to the plaintiff was confrontational from the outset," the statement of claim says. "Lemire escalated the situation and began cursing at the plaintiff and demanding he leave the scene immediately."
Rukundo alleges Lemire pushed him after he had already begun to walk away.
"At this time, Lemire and Staudinger made the decision to arrest the plaintiff," the statement says. "This was done without any lawful grounds to do so."
Rukundo claims he was punched by Lemire and taken to the ground aggressively. The incident was captured on two cellphone cameras that show the encounter from different angles.
Rukundo alleges Lemire put his knee on his neck and back and refused to release his knee, even though he said he was "restrained at the time and not resisting arrest."
The 32-year-old father of five claims the incident has affected him physically, emotionally and financially.
"I'm always nervous since it happened," Rukundo told CBC News. "My kids saw the video. My wife, it really affected her. She's got anxiety and stress. Financial-wise, I had to put everything I had to try to clear up my name."
Rukundo was charged with obstructing a peace officer and resisting arrest. He spent $5,000 to defend himself and the charges were dropped in February 2019. He said no one has ever apologized to him for laying the charges in the first place.
He filed a formal complaint about the incident, but after a review by the police chief, Lemire was cleared of any wrongdoing apart from using profanity. A note was put on his file.
Lawyer accuses officers of using racist stereotypes
The statement of claim also claims that following the arrest, the two officers "created misleading notes to convey the impression that the plaintiff was intoxicated, uncooperative and aggressive."
Rukundo insists he's telling the truth. His lawyer thinks the officers were trying to justify their actions.
"It appears to me they were using the kind of tropes and stereotypes of what people know as an angry black man," James Raworth told CBC News.
"All the descriptions of Mr. Rukundo are, to be the most generous, exaggerations — to be the most blunt, outright misleading statements — about how that day went down."
Edmonton police declined comment on the lawsuit, but earlier this summer, an EPS spokesperson said the officers only restrained Rukundo when he refused to leave the vehicle-collision scene.
"The male pushed one of the police officers and assumed an aggressive stance," Patrycja Mokrzan said.
Rukundo claims the arrest injured his right arm and resulted in bruising and swelling to his wrists and face, lower back pain and a traumatic brain injury.
"I always have a headache," he said. "I'm just taking some Advil and trying to put some bread on the table for my kids because I have the responsibility."
Rukundo claims he also suffers from nightmares, sleep disturbance and post-traumatic stress disorder.
"Since then, I don't sleep well," he said. "During the night I wake up. Sometimes I wake up screaming."
David and Goliath battle
Raworth expects the lawsuit will take years to settle.
"The Edmonton Police Service spends four to five times more money on legal fees fighting these suits than settling these suits," Raworth said. "They're going to do everything in their power to fight this suit to the very end so that they don't set a precedent of settling for large amounts of money."
He defended the $650,000 in damages being sought.
"Obviously the numbers we're talking about are very, very high," he said. "People might see those numbers and say this is way over the top. The point is that they're paying attention. And that's one of the most important parts of what we're trying to do right now."
Raworth said earlier attempts at a settlement were rebuffed by the police, but he remains open to "reasonable, good-faith negotiations".
Rukundo believes that $650,000 in damages is warranted.
"That's not a lot of money for what they caused in my family," Rukundo said. "My wife is not the same person anymore.
"They destroyed my family."
The statement of claim was filed with Edmonton Court of Queen's Bench in July. No statement of defence has been filed.