Video of Winnipeg police officers kneeing and repeatedly kicking a man, who was on the ground, during a recent arrest has enraged critics — but a police spokesperson says the use of force was justified, and might have saved the man's life.
The video, taken by a witness, shows three officers pinning a man face down during an arrest on Thursday morning. One knees the man in the side, and another, holding a carbine rifle, walks up and kicks him twice in the shoulder.
The witness video, which runs a little over a minute, was posted online that afternoon by Winnipeg Police Cause Harm, which describes itself as a police abolitionist group.
Winnipeg police released three minutes of surveillance video showing the incident from different angles after a news conference on Friday afternoon.
"Admittedly, it's a tough video to watch," Winnipeg Police Service spokesperson Const. Jay Murray said at the news conference.
Murray said three people called 911 just before 8 a.m. local time on Thursday about a man with a gun in the city's Exchange District.
WATCH | Video of police arresting, kicking a man on the ground:
Police say the man smashed the window of the Centennial Concert Hall with a brick and threw down the gun when officers arrived. But he refused to comply with their demands to get on the ground, and assaulted one of them, police said.
As police struggled to handcuff him, they found he was carrying a knife and a heavy bar, Murray said. The gun turned out to be an Airsoft gun.
The bar is not seen in either video. A black object which appears to be the gun is visible in the video police provided. Murray identified another small object as the knife. It's unclear if the man is handcuffed.
After the man throws the gun, the officers chase him down the street and tackle him, which is when the witness video begins.
Murray said Winnipeg police are trained to use force — for example, kicking someone in the shoulder — to avoid having to use lethal force. In this case, officers were trying to stop the man from grabbing the knife, he said.
"That kick likely saved his life. If that individual gets a hold on that knife that's in his waistband … we're potentially in a lethal force encounter," Murray said. "You can see from that video, we're trying to get his arms, [and] we can't."
The man later told police he had used a "significant amount" of methamphetamine the evening before, Murray said.
WATCH | Const. Jay Murray explains use of force during arrest:
The video surfaced less than a week after thousands gathered at the Manitoba Legislature demanding justice for Black people, and sweeping changes to policing and the administration of justice — one of many such protests around the world following the killing of George Floyd, by a Minneapolis police officer.
Several people criticized the use of force seen in the video. One woman said online she witnessed the arrest and that it didn't look like the man was resisting.
Murray said police knew people had questions about the original video, so they released the surveillance video to give more context.
"We don't want to unnecessarily escalate tensions in the community," he said. "It's no secret that there's been a lot of scrutiny on police in North America."
Murray said the arrested man identified as Indigenous, and that police Chief Danny Smyth reached out to Indigenous leaders after the arrest, including Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee.
Settee says the MKO is concerned by how some police forces in Canada have handled certain incidents.
"The police have a duty to protect and yet it seems like we have to protect ourselves against them now," Settee said in a statement Thursday.
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas told CBC News that he was disappointed that the police tried justifying the use of force.
"I see a group of police officers throwing somebody on the ground, restraining them, and then preceding to give a guy soccer kicks to the head. Kneeing the individual when he's already down," said Dumas.
"I don't see why any of that was necessary."
Kevin Walby, an assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Winnipeg, who has researched police use of force, said the man was already restrained when the kicking and kneeing happened.
"If the person's already restrained, you're not facing force anymore and you're not justified in kicking them or stepping on him or deploying a weapon," he said.
"They're trying to make it seem as if all of this was justified, when I can't think of one way in which it is," he said.
He said the witness video is shocking, especially in the broader context of the current discussion around police violence and defunding the police.
Walby said the information police gave about the arrest seems to direct blame at the man for how he was treated, when there are larger issues at play when people act out — such as mental illness, addictions and other social issues.
"The bigger picture is that the movement right now to defund the police speaks to a lot of these issues. Yes we have transgression in our communities, yes we have people who engage in wrongdoing — but why is that?," he said.
"I think we should really be looking at the lack of funding for social and community development coming from the province, coming from the city."
CBC News had reached out to the Independent Investigation Unit and Winnipeg Police Cause Harm for comment and is waiting for a response.