A Toronto mother says her 17-year-old son has been left traumatized after he was cornered and arrested by a swarm of police tactical officers who mistook him for a man wanted on kidnapping and murder charges.
“I am disgusted, upset, heartbroken and, over all, fearful,” the boy’s mother told the Star in a statement Monday. “There has been no apology and we absolutely deserve one.”
Megan, who asked that her last name not be published out of fear that it will identify her son, who is a minor, said the police must do better. “This can never be justified, this will never be OK.”
Peel police say they were acting on a tip Wednesday afternoon while searching for 21-year-old Kwami Garwood, who is wanted on charges including first-degree murder and kidnapping, when investigators spotted a vehicle their information indicated he may have been driving. They were wrong.
“Kwami Garwood and this boy look nothing alike,” David Bosveld, the 17-year-old boy’s godfather, told the Star Monday. “The only similarity is Black skin.”
The teen, whom the Star is not naming because he is a minor, was driving a Hyundai in the vicinity of Seneca Hill Drive when he was boxed in and rammed by the cruisers carrying a joint team of Toronto and Peel officers.
“They dealt with him like he was the worst wanted suspect in Toronto because that’s who they thought he was,” Bosveld said.
Bosveld said his godson was handcuffed and accompanied to the hospital by police even after identifying himself.
Bosveld said the teen received treatment for lacerations and X-rays for a leg injury sustained during the takedown. The boy’s mother wasn’t notified until he was undergoing treatment in hospital said Bosveld, who is also a Peel-based Black activist.
Bosveld said his godson was charged a minor driving offence, what he called an unrelated detail Peel police released in an effort to “minimize the damage to the kid and minimize their role and their mistake.”
“They continue to hurt, marginalize and criminalize this boy.”
Peel police spokesperson Const. Heather Cannon said officer had thought they were stopping an accused person deemed to be armed and dangerous.
“They believed this to be Garwood and clearly it wasn’t,” she said, calling the arrest a regrettable error that would be “shocking” for any civilian.
She added that police did not intend to release the detail of the teen’s driving charge as “an excuse” or to minimize what has happened.
In a statement Monday, Peel police said they have launched an internal investigation into the case, adding they “regret this mistake and the distress this has caused this young man and his family” following an attempt to execute a “high-risk arrest.”
While police were acting on credible information, it does not negate that this was a traumatic experience, the statement continued.
“Operating on the belief the individual in the car was the suspect, Mr. Garwood, we had a duty to act,” it said. “The operation to effect the arrest was carefully planned between the two police services and was executed with no serious injuries to the driver or officers.”
Peel Police say they’re attempting to contact the family to further discuss the issue and offer support.
The operation was led by Peel police with the support of Toronto’s Emergency Task Force.
Garwood is facing a first murder charge in the July 4, 2020, shooting death of Andre Charles, 43, of Toronto, and a series of new charges in Peel stemming from the alleged March 28 abduction of his estranged girlfriend, including kidnapping, forceful confinement, aggravated assault and possession of a loaded or restricted firearm.
Witness Asena Cengiz was pulling into her Seneca Hill Drive apartment complex, Wednesday when she said a car exiting the complex was rammed from the front and rear by several police cruisers.
“It was so aggressive and chaotic,” she said.
She said she saw tactical officers, with guns drawn, swarmed the vehicle and smashed a window. That’s when she heard a loud bang, before police hauled the teen from the vehicle.
“I was shocked when I found out he was 17 and not even the right guy,” she said. “This is a massive mess up.”
Bosveld said the teen’s family takes issue with parts of Peel police’s statement, saying: “It really shows that they don’t have the lens to understand the trauma that’s been caused and separate it from their mission to apprehend a legitimate suspect.”
Bosveld said the family has started a GoFundMe to help pay for legal costs for the boy, who has a learning disability.
Jason Miller is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star covering crime and justice in the Peel Region. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Reach him on email: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @millermotionpic
Jason Miller, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Toronto Star