Toronto police officer accused of choking Black man during 2019 arrest on bus found not guilty

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Surveillance video shows the arrest of Chase Richards by two plain-clothes Toronto police officers on a TTC bus on Dec. 13, 2019. (CBC - image credit)
Surveillance video shows the arrest of Chase Richards by two plain-clothes Toronto police officers on a TTC bus on Dec. 13, 2019. (CBC - image credit)

A Toronto police officer who was accused of using excessive force while arresting a Black man in 2019 aboard a TTC bus has been found not guilty of assault.

In Thursday's decision, Justice Apple Newton-Smith of the Ontario Court of Justice dismissed passenger Chase Richards's testimony that Det. Christopher Hutchings choked him without provocation for 30 seconds following a disagreement with a bus driver.

Instead, she said Hutchings's assertion that he used reasonable force to subdue an aggressive passenger better aligned with the bus surveillance video that captured the entire arrest.

"I can understand how a member of the public would be shocked upon viewing the video. As I initially was. But that person would not be apprised of all of the facts and circumstances," Newton-Smith wrote.

"Police use of force is never pretty and it is difficult to watch. But sometimes it is necessary. Having now heard all of the evidence I would be shocked if Officer Hutchings had not reacted swiftly and with force."

Conflicting testimony on 2019 arrest

The case stemmed from a confrontation on Dec. 13, 2019 aboard the 133 Neilson bus.

Richards, a 40-year-old Jamaican immigrant and single father of three at the time of the trial, testified that he boarded at Markham and Ellesmere roads from the back door and tapped his Presto card before being told the driver wanted to speak with him.

That's when, Richards testified, the bus driver accused him of not paying his fare, then said he didn't want to ride with him because he smelled like cigarettes.

The bus driver, Frederick Hickey, contradicted that account. Hickey said the issue was not about whether Richards paid his fare, but that he had boarded the bus at the rear at a stop that wasn't a subway station — an apparent violation of TTC policy.

Hickey said he simply sought to inform Richards of the rule, but the passenger became angry when he did so, arguing with him and refusing to stand behind the white line.

Eventually, Hickey pulled over, called police and all passengers except Richards disembarked.

WATCH: Black man testifies in June 2021 at trial of Toronto police detective accused of choking him during arrest

Richards testified that when Hutchings and fellow officer Det. Jason Tanouye arrived, both in plain clothes, one of the officers asked 'Is this the motherf---er that's causing the problem?'" Then, he said the officer grabbed him by the throat, choked him, threw him in a seat and then restrained him on the ground.

Richards said he believed he was targeted because he was a Black man.

Det. Hutchings testified that he asked Richards to step back multiple times before using force, eventually placing his hand at the base of Richards's throat and against his clavicle. Hutchings was adamant that he didn't put his hand around Richards's neck and didn't choke him.

In her judgment, Newton-Smith said she determined the testimony of Hutchings and Hickey to be more credible than that of Richards, which she said was inconsistent in several respects. She rejected his assertion that he wasn't acting aggressively on the grounds that the video shows him arguing with the driver for five minutes, and refusing to step behind the white line.

She said the video clearly shows the officer giving Richards several orders before resorting to force.

Newton-Smith wrote that Richards's "tone, demeanour and level of aggression led Det. Hutchings to believe that Mr. Richards was assaultive."

Newton-Smith said she believed that Hutchings didn't choke Richards at any point because expert testimony presented at trial suggested he would have reflexively grasped at his throat and been unable to speak — something the judge said wasn't borne out by the video.

"On the video, when Mr. Richards is stood up, he is smiling and laughing. I find this behaviour to be incongruous with someone who has just been choked. It is, however, consistent with the belligerent and aggressive demeanour described by both Officer Hutchings and Mr. Hickey, the bus driver," Newton-Smith wrote.

Newton-Smith concluded that Hutchings's use of force was "necessary, reasonable and proportionate" to protect the safety of the bus driver and affect the arrest.

Police standards unit investigating officer

Hutchings, who was a 24-year veteran of the Toronto police at the time, was suspended with pay along with Tanouye following the arrest. Tanouye was separately charged.

In a statement released after Thursday's verdict, the Toronto Police Service said it respects the court's ruling, but it has asked its professional standards unit to investigate.

"Notwithstanding the finding of not guilty, the Service nevertheless has concerns with respect to the level of professionalism demonstrated during this incident," spokesperson Meaghan Gray said in the statement.

"With the possibility of an appeal and related, unresolved, criminal charges pending, the Service will not be offering further comment."

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