Edmonton peace officers exonerated in excessive force, racial profiling case

A city investigation has exonerated two Edmonton transit peace officers accused of racial profiling and excessive force by a black teenager.

But the teen's lawyer called the city's investigation biased and negligent, and said he intends to appeal.

The youth, who is not being identified due to safety and employment concerns, was 15 years old when he filed complaints with the city and police after his arrest on Jan 19, 2018.

Cellphone video from the incident at the Belvedere LRT station shows the teen was pushed to the ground and handcuffed by two peace officers who then ticketed him for loitering.

Edmonton Police Service investigators determined the peace officers acted within their lawful authority, and no charges were laid following an investigation that ended in October.

The same conclusion was reached last month by the peace officer section of the city's community standards and neighbourhoods branch.

"[The officers] were lawfully placed and engaged in enforcing a City of Edmonton bylaw during the course of their encounter with [the teen]," wrote John Simmons, director of the peace officer section and decider-of-fact in the youth's complaint.

"The analysis conducted by the Edmonton Police Service detective in support of his investigation determined that [the officers] were lawfully placed, that [the youth] was detainable for a bylaw offence and that the force used was reasonable and consistent with their training."

Simmons noted that the officer who ticketed the teen resigned a month after the incident. The officers are referred to as "former TPO R.O." and "TPO F.M."

According to a letter sent to the teen's lawyer Tom Engel, the probe included the examination of video surveillance, investigative reports and statements from the officers, and the original complaint email from the teen. The city's loitering bylaw, security procedures, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and options around use of force models were also evaluated.

But Engel, said the investigator failed to interview the eyewitnesses, officers or his client. He said Simmons didn't acknowledge the teen's different version of events or explain how he reached his conclusion.

"And then he just takes those statements and he arrives at a conclusion that the statements given by the police officers are true," said Engel. "So these are the hallmarks of a negligent investigation and a biased investigation."

Teen's complaint 

In his formal complaint filed on Jan. 25, 2018, the teen said one officer approached him in the station's enclosed glass pedway where he was staying warm as he waited for bus No. 154.

He said he had a valid bus pass and was quietly waiting for 10 to 15 minutes with a group of black friends.

According to the teen, the officer told him to leave.  When he asked why, he was told they were loitering.

The youth said while he was turning to leave, the officer grabbed his arm and told him he was being detained for loitering, then pushed him against a railing.

The teen said he was not resisting but the officer and his colleague threw him to the floor, breaking his glasses and injuring his head. Initially, said the teen, he co-operated but started swearing after they put their knees on his back.

He said he believes their skin colour made them a target.

Two months after the incident, police laid 460 charges against 34 teens who were using Edmonton's LRT system to carry out a months-long crime spree, which included kicking a woman down the stairs at the Belvedere LRT station.

Teen loitered, city says

But Simmons said an examination of the incident confirmed the youth was loitering.

After several LRT trains had passed, the officer approached the group to determine their purpose for being there, Simmons wrote. He said the group stated that they were waiting for a friend and the officer explained the loitering bylaw and told them to leave.

"However [the youth] remained and verbally expressed his defiance and intention to remain," wrote Simmons. "Former TPO R.O. informed (the youth) he was under investigation for loitering and was not free to leave."

Simmons said the youth tried to walk away but the officer grabbed his arm to stop him. He said when the youth resisted, the officer grasped him and stated he was under arrest.

"Former TPO R.O. was unable to control (the youth's) resistance and TPO F.M. arrived to assist. Together they were able to control [the youth] after he was put onto the ground into the prone position," Simmons wrote.

Simmons letter doesn't address the teen's assertion that he was waiting for a bus.

It's an omission that concerns Engel who questioned why the officers weren't named or why his client wasn't allowed to leave.

"When he decided to leave they wouldn't let him leave and then they resorted to use of force," said Engel. "This was an unnecessary exercise of authority."

Engel said documents received through a freedom of information request reveal the city's loitering bylaw doesn't define what loitering means so it's left up to peace officers without guidance or enough training on enforcement.

Engel said he will appeal the directive to Alberta's Director of Law Enforcement, Bill Sweeney.

andrea.huncar@cbc.ca

@andreahuncar