2.28.2011

my police complaint saga comes to a close

In light of the new scathing report on G20 police abuse, and continued calls for an independent inquiry, this seems like a good time to post an update on my own relatively minor police complaint.

I've just written the final chapter in the saga. For those just tuning in:

Part I: What happened.

Part II: My complaint is "withdrawn".

Part III: The OIPRD calls me.

Part IV: I feel I have no choice; the complaint becomes an investigation.

* * * *

A few weeks ago I received the finding of the investigation, the gist of which is summarized in this paragraph.
Taking into consideration all the information we have received to date, I am of the view that based on reasonable grounds the allegations cannot be substantiated. There is insufficient reason to conclude misconduct was committed by the officer.

There is an opportunity to request a review by the OIPRD. I did not do so, but I did write this letter.

* * * *
I am writing in response to the findings in the above-referenced complaint. I have received the Investigative Report and the letter of review of the OIPRD Liaison Officer, copies of which are attached. While I believe a formal review by the OIPRD will not change the outcome of this decision, I wish to comment on the complaints process and to reply to some of the findings of the investigation.

The complaint process

When I originally met with Detective Smith [not her real name] on November 17, 2010 to make my complaint, Detective Smith informed me that I had three options – informal resolution, withdrawal and investigation. She explained both informal resolution and investigation in very negative terms, and made those options seem inappropriate for my complaint. She took great pains to explain that “withdrawal” of the complaint would not mean the complaint is withdrawn, insisting that it was poorly named, and that the complaint would remain on the officer’s record. I signed a withdrawal, and noted that I was signing it with the understanding that the complaint was not actually being withdrawn, but would remain in the officer’s personnel file for accountability.

On November 29, 2010 I received a call from someone at the OIPRD informing me that a withdrawn complaint is indeed withdrawn. The OIPRD representative told me that the complaint would remain in a database with the notation “withdrawn”, but no other details would be on record, nor would the complaint remain on the officer’s record. Based on this new information, I felt I had been intentionally misled, and withdrew the withdrawal of my complaint.

When Detective Smith received notice that I had withdrawn my withdrawal, she called me, and I met with her for a second time, on December 6, 2010, intending to enter into an Informal Resolution. At that meeting, Detective Smith read to me the statements by the other police officers who witnessed the incident. While I fully expected them to corroborate their colleague’s version of events, and never expected them to agree with a civilian’s complaint, hearing their blatant lies was upsetting. I was angry at their conveniently edited version of the incident, and because of this, I decided to pursue the investigation.

The findings of the investigation

As stated above, I had no expectations that this investigation would substantiate my allegations. This was a case of my word against the word of three police officers (the Respondent Officer plus two Witness Officers). At least 10 civilians also witnessed the incident, but I have no way of identifying or contacting any of them. I did not sustain permanent injuries or nor did I require medical attention, so there is no physical evidence of the pain and fear I experienced. One would have to be extremely naïve to believe any other outcome was possible.

Despite this, I ask the OIPRD to consider these points.

1. In the “Analysis” section of the Investigative Report, it is noted that I was unsure of the exact words the officer used and said, “Don’t quote me on that”. I wish to be extremely clear on this point.

When I filed my complaint online on December 28, and when I spoke to Detective Smith on November 17, I quoted the exact words the officer used. Immediately following the incident, on the bus on the way home from Toronto, I wrote down the details so I could remember them.

When I met with Detective Smith the second time, on December 6, I had no notes in front of me and no longer remembered the exact words that the officer used. I worked as a journalist for many years, and I do not quote people unless I am certain of their exact words. When I said, “Don’t quote me on that,” I was speaking literally. At that moment, more than two months after the incident, I did not remember if the officer had yelled “Stay the hell out of the street!” or “Stay the f - - k out of the street!” or “Get the hell out of the street!” or some other similar phrase. I was in no way implying that I couldn’t remember the tone and general meaning of her statement. Checking my notes, I can attest that the Respondent Officer’s exact words were, “Do you want me to arrest you? You stay the hell out of the street.”

2. In the “Analysis” section of the Investigative Report, it is stated:
There was no question about the identity of the person being a police officer; however, at the end of her interview she [the Complainant] stated that the Respondent Officer should have told her that she was a police officer.
This is taken out of context. In my interview, I said that had the officer approached me in a normal fashion, identified herself as a police officer and asked me to move aside, I would absolutely have done so, as I would submit to her authority, as opposed to the production assistant’s request. But the Respondent Officer never asked me to move. Instead, she charged at me with her arms extended, pushed me against a barricade and pinned me there for several seconds while screaming at me.

My complaint had nothing to do with the Respondent Officer failing to identify herself. My point was that she never asked or told me to move, nor gave me the opportunity to respond to such a request or demand. Her first and only reaction was the use of physical and verbal force.

3. In the statement read to me by Detective Smith, one of the Witness Officers claims that during the entire film shoot, I was the only civilian to complain about the blocked intersection or to attempt to cross the intersection. However, when I arrived at the intersection, several people were already loudly complaining. People were insisting that they be allowed to cross the street, asking how much longer they would be delayed, and so forth. One officer yelled at the crowd, “Just use the subway!”, and several people shouted back that the subway had also been closed. The Witness Officer has mischaracterized the entire scene, including the incident in question.

4. The Respondent Officer does not deny making physical contact with me, but says this was necessary to prevent me from entering traffic. If this is the case, I must wonder why the Respondent Officer continued to pin my arms against the metal barricade with great force, why she leaned into my face and yelled at me, and threatened me with arrest. Surely she could not have believed she was protecting me at that point. Cars from the film shoot were speeding down the street, and there was no reason to imagine I would run into moving traffic. I was not resisting the Respondent Officer, speaking to her or even making eye contact with her. Her actions, words and demeanor contradict her statement that she was acting to protect me from harm.

Conclusion

Finally, I appeal to simple logic and reason. I am a 50-year-old woman. I have never been arrested. I have never sued anyone or lodged a formal complaint against anyone. If this incident never took place – if the Respondent Officer had not charged at me, pushed me into the barricade, leaned into my face and yelled forcefully at me – why would I go to all this trouble? Why would I (1) file a complaint online, (2) meet with Detective Smith on November 17, (3) meet with Detective Smith again on December 6 (both meetings necessitating a trip from Mississauga to Toronto), (4) give a taped interview and (5) write this letter? Why would anyone go to all this trouble if it hadn’t happened?

I took the trouble to report this incident because I was mildly assaulted by a police officer using inappropriately excessive physical and verbal force. If the Respondent Officer reacted this strongly to a verbal argument between two people on the street, what will she do in a more extreme and potentially dangerous situation? I felt her actions were unwarranted, frightening, even unstable, and that they should be reported.

Further, during the complaints process itself, I was encouraged to withdraw my complaint. If I was given incorrect information by the OIPRD – if a withdrawn complaint means something other than a withdrawn complaint – then perhaps the Toronto Police Service should re-name the “withdrawal” option to something more readily understood. However, if the information I was given by the OIPRD was correct – which I strongly suspect is the case – then I must wonder how many civilian complaints against the Toronto Police Service are withdrawn under the same conditions, thus burying a potentially substantial portion of actual civilian complaints.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Sincerely, etc. etc., with copies to the Detective "Smith" and the investigator.

The end.

7 comments:

Amy said...

Great letter, Laura. I assume you have not had any response? I also assume you did not expect to get one. How infuriating!

laura k said...

Thank you, Amy.

The letter goes in the mail today. I imagine I'll get some kind of perfunctory "we have received your letter" response.

johngoldfine said...

My blood pressure goes up just reading the letter (and Amy is right: the letter is a corker)--because your points and your logic are so unassailable but in a cause unfairly lost.

In a way this is the most upsetting part: "I took the trouble to report this incident because I was mildly assaulted by a police officer using inappropriately excessive physical and verbal force. If the Respondent Officer reacted this strongly to a verbal argument between two people on the street, what will she do in a more extreme and potentially dangerous situation? I felt her actions were unwarranted, frightening, even unstable, and that they should be reported."

Here you are trying to do right, to consider others, to look out for the common good--quashed and squelched. Told to shut up and sit down and behave yourself.

That stonewalling runaround and the contempt behind it is worse than the rogue cop or the closing off of city streets.

CAulds said...

Did you ever read Little Brother by Cory Doctorow?

laura k said...

John, thanks for that. I hadn't seen it that way, really.

CAulds, I haven't read the book, not really my cup of tea. I've read a lot of Cory Doctorow's work online, though - and he happens to be the keynote speaker in a conference at my school this weekend.

tornwordo said...

I once contested a ticket and used a similar logic in front of the judge. I said, "This event is very fresh in my mind because it was so unjust. The police officer there is not telling the truth. I remember very clearly the officer who stopped me, and this is not that person. This is the person who delivered the ticket."

Dismissed.

It doesn't seem likely that it will go that way in that case, but that is one awesome letter.

laura k said...

Dismissed! Good on you. And thank you.