LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — Three southern Alberta police officers have been cleared of misconduct after a restaurant worker in a “Star Wars'' storm-trooper costume and carrying a plastic gun ended up with a bloody nose when she was forced to the ground.
The Lethbridge officers had already been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing for the arrest in May 2020, but were being investigated by the Medicine Hat Police Service for professional misconduct under Alberta's Police Act.
"There is no doubt that this incident was extremely stressful for the woman involved as she likely did not understand what was happening and was not able to see or communicate well through her helmet," Lethbridge police Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh said in a statement Wednesday.
"Firearm calls like this are also very stressful for officers who are trying to process everything very quickly, while protecting themselves and other people in the area from a potentially lethal weapon."
The owner of the Coco Vanilla Galactic Cantina in Lethbridge has said the 19-year-old employee had agreed to carry a toy blaster and wear the elaborate white uniform to get the attention of people celebrating May 4. The day is popular among fans of the movie franchise because of the famous line “May the force be with you.''
That day, two separate 911 calls came in to report a person dressed as a storm trooper was carrying a real firearm, Lethbridge police said.
Three officers responded and saw the person was carrying "what appeared from a distance" to be a black gun, police added.
In the statement, police said two of the three officers drew their weapons and the woman was told to move away from the gun and lay face down on the pavement.
"While the person did drop the weapon, step back and eventually kneel down, they appeared non-responsive to subsequent demands, and there was a belief the person might be searching for a path to escape," the release said.
Brad Whalen, the restaurant owner, said police forced his employee on her stomach, she hit her face and her nose started bleeding.
A video of the encounter, shared on social media, shows an officer standing by the blaster while Whalen yells from the restaurant door that it's fake. A woman can be heard crying.
Mehdizadeh said he reviewed the 250-page report from the Medicine Hat investigators and concluded no officers were guilty of misconduct. He said they saw the subject of the 911 call with what looked like a weapon "alone in the parking lot with no signs, music or activity to suggest the officer should not take seriously the potential threat that was reported."
The police chief also said the officers' actions were consistent with use-of-force policies, the encounter was less than three minutes long and they offered to help the women once they realized there was no threat.
"We do acknowledge the stress and confusion endured by the young woman in the costume, through no fault of her own," he said.
"I am satisfied, however, that our officers, operating in the face of their own stressful circumstance did everything in their power to minimize the impact of this event."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 14, 2021.
— By Daniela Germano in Edmonton
The Canadian Press