"if this is normal procedure, we're all in trouble"

I'm trying to write something for publication about this weekend's War Resister Support Campaign events, so I must neglect the blog for a bit. In lieu of thinking too much, I'll pass along two good pieces I saw in today's Globe and Mail.

First, Gary Mason, who writes consistently and strongly against police abuse, has an excellent column on Willow Kinloch, the teenage girl who was brutalized while held in a Victoria jail cell three years ago, when she was 15 years old.
In some ways, it's even more disturbing than the video of a defenceless Robert Dziekanski being tasered to death.

Except Willow Kinloch is alive to talk about it.

All I can say is the just-released video of what happened to then-15-year-old Ms. Kinloch in a Victoria jail cell three years ago sickens me still. And I can't believe most right-minded Canadians won't feel the same way once they see it.

The back story is as follows: Ms. Kinloch was drinking with friends in a Victoria-area park one evening in May, 2005. Intoxicated, she was arrested by police and taken to jail. It was there, police say, that she was placed in a windowless, padded cell after she'd become combative and verbally abusive. Inside the cell, she screamed and cried hysterically, police say, while punching and kicking the cell door.

She was not handcuffed or restrained in any way.

Four hours later, Ms. Kinloch was deemed sober enough to be taken home. The buzzer in the apartment building where her parents lived wasn't working. It was about 4 a.m. at this point, so police decided to take Ms. Kinloch back to the police station until someone could come to pick her up later.

The four-hour time-lapse video released this week by Ms. Kinloch's lawyer shows a police matron entering the padded cell in which the young girl is being held. She asks the girl to take off her bra and shoes. Ms. Kinloch takes off her bra. She looks perfectly calm. Then she kicks off a shoe, sending it into the corner of the cell. At this point the matron pushes Ms. Kinloch up against the wall and grabs her neck.

Two male officers rush in and pin Ms. Kinloch to the floor, handcuffing her hands behind her back. A third male officer enters with nylon leash, which is used to bind Ms. Kinloch's feet together. Now she is effectively hogtied. The leash is slipped through the bottom of the cell door, which is then locked.

Over the next couple of hours, Ms. Kinloch moves around on the cell floor in an effort to find some comfort. She is kept in this state for four hours before she is released.

Before she is, her lawyer says, Ms. Kinloch is informed she is being charged with assault stemming from her brief struggle with the police matron who shoved her against the cell wall.

Of course, none of this surfaces at the time. It stays hush-hush while Ms. Kinloch hires a lawyer who subsequently informs the police his client is planning to sue for damages stemming from her treatment in the jail cell. Attempts to reach an out-of-court settlement drag on for months and, eventually, a few years. But the Victoria police stick to their position that their actions were justified.

With the case set to go to trial in June, Ms. Kinloch decided to go public with her story this week and release the never-seen-before surveillance video of the incident.

So here we are, with more than a few questions needing to be answered, starting with: What were the three male police officers thinking, using such abusive and heavy-handed tactics to restrain a 15-year-old female teenager who wasn't a physical threat to anyone?

Willow Kinloch is less than five feet tall. At 15, she probably weighed 90 pounds, if that. Yet police felt they had to handcuff her hands behind her back and then tether her feet - for four hours? How can police say they used "reasonable force" given the circumstances? How can what they did to a 15-year-old waif who had apparently sobered up from her once-drunken state be anyone's definition of reasonable force?

How common is this tethering practice anyway? Victoria police must lock up belligerent drunks all the time. How often do they handcuff their hands behind their back and bind their feet together with a leash?

I think we should know.

It's been reported that once the Crown had an opportunity to view the surveillance tape a few years ago, it decided to drop the assault charges against Ms. Kinloch, now 18. I guess so. To my eye, the only person being assaulted in the video is Ms. Kinloch.

I can't believe management at the Victoria Police Department knew about this case and didn't discipline the officers involved. I can't believe the police sat on this video for three years. Even if Ms. Kinloch was planning to sue and there was a chance the case could go to trial, there was nothing preventing the police from releasing the video and coming clean about what happened that night.

In my opinion, the tape is every bit as damaging as one you might see of a group of police officers beating up a suspect. And if we found out that the police were sitting on a video like that, we'd be up in arms. If Ms. Kinloch hadn't sued, giving her lawyer access to the jail cell surveillance footage, I bet we never would have seen this video or heard about this incident.

Just because Ms. Kinloch didn't die doesn't make the actions of the police any less wrong. No, she wasn't an angel. She was no doubt belligerent and, like most drunk teenagers, not a pile of fun to handle. But if the police believe inhumane treatment like this is somehow justified in this case, we're all in trouble.

This page at the Globe and Mail contains links to both videos.

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