Calls for inquiry mount after Montreal man exonerated in cop assault case

·4 min read

MONTREAL — Politicians and civil rights groups said Thursday an independent investigation is needed to determine how a Montreal man ended up in jail for almost a week before allegations that he tried to kill a police officer were suddenly dropped.

Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante called for a probe into the actions of police and prosecutors in the case of Mamadi III Fara Camara, who was detained for six days before his name was cleared.

"The fact that an innocent man was put into jail for no reason, I care, I feel for this person and I do feel for his family as well, and I’m sorry for what he had to go through," Plante told reporters outside city hall.

Plante denounced the situation as "unacceptable," and said she was speaking with the province regarding the format of an eventual independent inquiry. Among other elements, she said the probe should examine whether racial profiling played a part in the incident.

Prosecutors on Wednesday dropped all charges against Camara, who is Black, after evidence surfaced exonerating him.

Camara was arrested Jan. 28 after a police officer was allegedly disarmed and attacked following a traffic stop in Montreal's Parc-Extension borough. Camara was charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault of a peace officer, disarming a peace officer and illegally discharging a firearm.

Quebec's public security minister suggested on Twitter that an investigation was forthcoming.

"The circumstances that led to the indictment of Mr. Mamadi Fara Camara must be examined," Genevieve Guilbault wrote. She said the province would work with the City of Montreal to determine the "optimal formula" for the probe, while still respecting the ongoing Montreal police investigation into the alleged attack.

Montreal police Chief Sylvain Caron said Thursday in a statement that police officers followed all proper procedures in investigating the alleged attack on the officer.

"I want Montrealers to know that the event that took place Jan. 28 is exceptionally complex," Caron said. "Our investigators have worked tirelessly since the event to clear up what happened."

Police said Thursday that an analysis of the evidence, including a video, suggests the presence of an additional person at the crime scene.

"The continuous work of the investigators allowed, yesterday, for a new analysis of the evidence no longer supporting charges towards the suspect initially apprehended," the statement read, adding the video images were "not in themselves exculpatory."

Joanie Chainey, one of Camara’s lawyers, said her client was "relieved" to be home but still in shock over what happened.

She said Camara had received a ticket from the police officer on the day of the incident and was on the scene when the altercation took place, but he did not commit the crime. She said the evidence against Camara, who has no criminal record, was “clearly and only circumstantial," and she echoed the call for a deeper investigation.

“There’s so many questions that need to be answered,” she said.

“We have a man who had no priors who was arrested based on circumstantial evidence, he remained detained for six days before being released because of the fact that the evidence wasn't strong enough.”

She said her client was considering the option of legal action against the city.

Earlier, Quebec's opposition political parties, municipal politicians and a civil rights organization joined the calls for an independent investigation into how Camara came to be arrested and detained for so long.

The provincial Liberals said the situation was "terrible" for Camara, his pregnant wife and for the police officer who was attacked. "The work of the police during the altercation and the arrest of Mr. Camara, as well as the work of the prosecutors who have laid charges, must be fully analyzed," three of its critics said in a joint statement.

A civil rights group said in a statement that the arrest of Camara, a 31-year-old doctoral student, "raises serious questions" about the conduct of police and judicial authorities, including the possibility of racial profiling.

"Despite all promises and endlessly repeated commitments by the Montreal administration to eliminate racial profiling by the (Montreal police), we are always back to the same point: being Black is a risk when facing police in Montreal," the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations said in a statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2021

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press