The mother of a 16-year-old boy seen on video being repeatedly punched by a Durham region officer says she turned to police because her son needed help — and now feels her trust was “violated.”
“I entrusted the police to find him and take care of him,” the mother said in an interview Thursday.
“If they are saying this is how they handle mental health checks of minors, or anybody … I really feel that it has to be reviewed and changed. Immediately.”
The mother, whom the Star is not naming because it would identify the youth, has retained a lawyer and plans to launch a complaint with the provincial police watchdog, the Office of the Independent Police Review Director. She says her son suffered injuries to his face, right eye and neck during the May 15 incident, which did not result in any charges.
“There are multiple aspects of (Durham police) behaviour which concern the family, particularly the use of force,” said Knia Singh, the mother’s lawyer.
Durham police released a statement about the incident earlier this week after a six-minute video of the arrest began circulating widely online over the weekend. Police said the video has been sent to its professional standards unit for review, but that the officers involved are not under investigation.
“The officers followed proper protocol based on the information provided,” Const. George Tudos said in a statement Monday.
The statement said that the punches captured on video were necessary to “gain compliance of the male, who refused to make his hands available,” and that the call involved “a distraught male possibly armed with a knife.”
The mother insists her concerns for his wellbeing had nothing to do with a knife, and a Durham police spokesperson confirmed that the mother did not mention a knife when she was communicating with police.
The mother said she went into a police station near her son’s school after getting a call from her son’s girlfriend alerting her that her son was unwell and may be in distress. When neither she nor the girlfriend could get hold of the youth, the mother asked police to help find her son and make sure he was OK.
“This was not a criminal call at all. It was a wellness check,” she said.
Asked why police thought the youth might have been armed with a knife, Tudos said in an email Thursday that he believes officers responding to the call “came to their own conclusion that the male may potentially be armed, given information received, the nature of the call (distraught male), given the sight of a cut wound on his hand and given how uncooperative the male was when approached.”
“During the apprehension,” Tudos said, “he reached down into his pockets with both hands and later, refused to show his hands and cooperate with officers when pinned on the ground.”
Officers believed he may have been armed “and followed their training.” They then determined he was not armed, Tudos said.
Regarding the cut, the young man’s mother said the force used by the officers reopened a small cut on his hand from the day before, when he was preparing food.
The video does not show the events immediately leading up to the arrest, but begins with a male and female officer on either side of the boy.
According to Singh, the family lawyer, police located the teen and his friends near Cathedral Park in Whitby where he was playing with a skateboard. He was cooperative with officers and answered their questions, Singh said, but didn’t agree to a search by police because he hadn’t done anything wrong.
Singh said that Durham police asked if he had any weapons and he replied no; he alleges police proceeded to “take control” of the boy to search him, and took him down to the ground.
“I felt violated when they forcefully wanted to search me, and was confused as to why they were treating me that way,” the teen said in a statement released by Singh.
The video shows police holding him on the grass, face first, as the male officer instructs him to put his hands behind his back “or I’m going to have to hit you.” The officer has his knee on the youth’s neck and upper back and he proceeds to punch him six times with a closed fist before he handcuffs him. The youth can be heard crying out and at one point says: “Get the f–k off me, bro.”
Other young men who were with the youth at the time can be heard speaking to the officers and asking what they are doing and to identify themselves. At one point, a second young man can be heard saying: “What the f–k?” An officer then grabs the youth’s arm and arrests him. He was charged with causing a disturbance in a public place and issued a bylaw ticket, Durham police said.
Singh said the family also has serious concerns about that youth’s treatment, which he calls a “blatant abuse of power.”
The mother is also “devastated” that, even though an ambulance came to the scene, she claims her son was not examined by paramedics and was, instead, taken to the hospital by police. He was admitted to hospital and released the following day, she said.
Tudos said it is not unusual for officers to drive people to hospital if physical injuries seem minor and the person is in some distress. Tudos said he could not provide any further details surrounding the youth, and cited privacy issues and legislation.
The mother said she did not know about the existence of the video until about a week after the incident. Seeing her son on the ground, being punched by an officer, she felt “completely shocked and appalled and hurt.” She expected police would locate her son, make sure he was OK, and get him any medical assistance he needed.
“Forceful action and physical punching … that makes the situation worse. It doesn’t help the individual at all,” she said.
She adds that the incident has caused her son emotional damage.
“It’s affected him greatly.”
Durham police will be reaching out to the young man and his mother “to discuss the incident and to explain why officers reacted the way they did,” Tudos said.
Jim Rankin is a reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @Jleerankin
Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing. Reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis