A new video shows Toronto police tasering a seemingly motionless man who is already lying on the ground and then aggressively intimidating a bystander who was filming the incident.
In the video, which was released by City News today, a man lays in the street surrounded by three Toronto Police officers. "I dunno man, I just saw this cop kick this guy in the head," a voice off camera says.
Then the unmistakable sound of a Taser going off is heard.
"He's down and they tased him," the man filming says. The cop with a Taser in his hand points a finger at him and yells at him to move back if he wants to be a witness. The man filming appears to be about a dozen metres away from where police have surrounded the man on the ground.
"I'm not obstructing your arrest," the man says back to police. "I'm not getting involved."
Another officer walks over to tell the witness to "let them do what they need to do." The officer with the Taser then proceeds to stomp on the arrested man's legs and yells "stop resisting."
The same officer points at the man filming and says "get that man out of my face, please." Again, the guy filming appears to be at least a dozen metres away.
The man filming is then approached by two cops telling him to move back and stop filming.
"He's going to spit in your face, you're going to get AIDS," says one of the police officers, though it's unclear who he is talking about.
"Stop recording or I'm going to seize your phone as evidence and then you're going to lose your phone."
Toronto police spokesperson Mark Pugash told VICE that the officers were called to Seaton House for reports of a man spitting on a staff member at the homeless shelter. When they arrived the man reportedly hit a female police officer in the face and knocked her to the ground. Several construction workers came to help and one was apparently bitten during the fracas. Police then managed to get the man in the back of a police car where he kicked out the back window. Pugash said police attempted to taser the man but it had no effect because of his heavy clothing. They then got him out of the car which is where the video picks up from.
"We got him out, he was on the ground, my understanding is that he still was in the process of biting one of the police officers and they subdued him," Pugash told VICE.
But Ottawa-based criminal lawyer Michael Spratt said the video is "a depiction of the worst of Toronto police."
"There are no words to describe the impropriety of what this officer did. It's fucking crazy," he told VICE.
"At every level, from the officers' actions, to the officers' first attempts to cover this up, to the officers' interfering with a member of the public who is acting completely within his rights, everything that is depicted in this video is shocking behaviour."
Pugash said officers are aware that people have every right to film police interactions as long as they aren't obstructing an arrest.
"Several officers talked about seizing the man's camera, or phone," Pugash said. "They have no authority to do that. From what I can see from the video is that the man was not obstructing, not impeding the police officers in any way."
Pugash said that the TPS Professional Standards Unit is looking into the incident and "if any further action is necessary, it will be taken."
Pugash said the TPS is in favour of body worn cameras as this video only showed the last moments of the arrest and the body cameras would have shown the full account.
This isn't the first time that TPS officers have been accused of intimidating people with cameras. In October of 2015, Toronto police officers intimidating a bystander who recorded what he believed was a racially-motivated street check.
Spratt said anyone is allowed to film a police officer and witness public police actions provided they are not interfering with the officers. Witnesses are under "no obligation to turn off a video camera or to shut his eyes to obvious injustices happening before them," he added.
"The police have no right to interfere, especially in this case with an individual standing a far distance away, (who) is not involved whatsoever and is doing a public service in capturing some gross violations perpetrated by the police."
In order to obstruct an arrest, Spratt said an individual would have to be much closer to the officer or getting between an officer and the suspect and preventing them from performing their duty. Someone causing a disturbance by yelling or committing a criminal offence themselves could also be accused of obstructing police.
"This individual has done everything correctly," Spratt said. "Under these circumstances it's perfectly justifiable to film police officers as long as you're not breaking the law or interfering with their investigation."
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