Toronto officers admit misconduct for arrest, Tasering of young Black man in case of 'mistaken identity'

Christine Stought-O'Gilvie, mother of Hasani O'Gilvie, and the family's lawyer speak to reporters at Toronto police headquarters on Tuesday. (Talia RIcci/CBC - image credit)
Christine Stought-O'Gilvie, mother of Hasani O'Gilvie, and the family's lawyer speak to reporters at Toronto police headquarters on Tuesday. (Talia RIcci/CBC - image credit)

Two Toronto police officers have admitted to misconduct related to their role in the arrest of a young Black university student who was stopped, Tasered and kneed in the neck in what turned out to be a case of "mistaken identity."

Const. Seth Rietkoetter pleaded guilty Monday at a Toronto police disciplinary tribunal to using unnecessary force and making an unlawful arrest when he and two other officers arrested then-27-year-old Hasani O'Gilvie in August 2021.

Sgt. Rachel Saliba pleaded guilty to the same charge at a separate hearing on Tuesday, while a third officer, Const. Jilliane Baquiran, was disciplined at the unit level.

The officers were looking for a suspect who was considered dangerous and had a "somewhat similar" description to O'Gilvie's appearance when Saliba stopped O'Gilvie while he was walking in a plaza in north Toronto, according to agreed statements of facts in both cases.

O'Gilvie denied he was the suspect when asked and verbally identified himself, but Sgt. Saliba still threw him to the ground after he resisted an attempt to handcuff him, according to the statements. Sgt. Rietkoetter, who arrived after the initial interaction, shot O'Gilvie with a stun gun five times, then "placed his left knee across the complainant's head and neck" and kept it there while he was handcuffed, the statement in his proceeding said.

"Const. Rietkoetter's actions in restraining the complainant by placing his knee across the complainant's neck was not consistent with his training and was unnecessary," the statement said.

"Const. Rietkoetter failed in his duty to continuously assess the situation so that the level of force remained reasonable, proportionate, and necessary as the circumstances changed throughout the incident."

The officers told O'Gilvie he was under arrest for theft and failing to comply, and placed him in the back of a police car, but eventually let him go after discovering multiple identification cards that made it clear they had arrested the wrong person.

The prosecution and defence have jointly recommended Rietkoetter be demoted from first class to second class constable for a year and Saliba be demoted from sergeant to first-class constable for eight months. Their sentences will be delivered at a later date.

Anti-Black bias needs to be addressed, lawyer says

Lawyer David Shellnut, who is representing the O'Gilvie family, disagreed with portions of the statement of facts read at Tuesday's hearing. Citing footage from body worn cameras footage, Shellnut said his client repeatedly identified himself and asked what the problem was but the officers showed no meaningful attempt at dialogue.

"Within moments, he's being jumped on by three officers. He's not resisting. He's being pushed and pulled in all directions. His hands are up. He's clearly confused. He says, 'What did I do?'" Shellnut told the hearing.

"Mr. Ogilvie was overpowered."

Speaking to reporters before Tuesday's hearing, Shellnut said O'Gilvie is the "human face" of statistics released last year showing that Black and Indigenous people are disproportionately affected by use of force and strip searches by Toronto police officers. Then-police chief James Ramer apologized when the data was released and said the force needs to do better.

Shellnut lamented that race was not mentioned in the disciplinary proceedings as having playing a role in the interactions between and O'Gilvie.

"It will no doubt be hard work to address systemic, anti-Black biases within TPS, but we must do so with more than mere apologies," Shellnut said. "We must look at individual cases."

'Treat them with dignity,' mother says to officers

Hasani's mother, Christine Stought-O'Gilvie, said her son was on his way to an exam at the University of Toronto when the arrest happened. She said Hasani, who is an introvert, has "receded more into himself" and has taken leave from studying at the University of Toronto for the past two years.

"What happened to him is difficult, was difficult, still is difficult... but we're healing," Stought-O'Gilvie said.

Stought-O'Gilvie, a teacher with the Toronto District School Board, also made a direct appeal to police officers who encounter young, Black men.

"Please treat them with dignity," she said. "Please remember that you may be a father or you may have a brother out there and you'd like them to be treated just the same way that the mothers of Black men would like them to be treated."

civil lawsuit the O'Gilvie family launched against the three officers and the Toronto Police Services Board, which sought damages of just under $3 million, was resolved at the end of last year "to the satisfaction of all parties," Shellnut said.