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Video Shows Altercation Between an Aboriginal Girl and Police, Weeks Before She Committed Suicide

Azraya Kokopenace was arrested by the local Kenora police, in northern Ontario. Just weeks later, after a second arrest, she was found dead steps away from the local hospital.

by Hilary Beaumont
May 14 2016, 4:35pm

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The family of an Aboriginal girl who recently committed suicide has released two videos showing a struggle between her and two police officers about three weeks before her death. Now they are demanding answers from law enforcement.

VICE News has obtained the videos, recorded on March 26 in Kenora, Ontario by two bystanders, that show the altercation from two different angles.

In one of the videos, Azraya Kokopenace lies on her back on the ground as a male police officer stands over her, trying to restrain her as she resists. The 14-year-old kicks her legs up but doesn't strike him. In response, the officer grips her left arm with two hands and pulls her into the air before dropping her on the ground.

The man recording the video obtained by VICE News shouts out, "Hey! Fuckin' relax! Why don't you get a female cop over here?"

Azraya was drunk at the time, according to her close friend Darwin Fobister who was nearby but did not witness the incident. She had also attempted to kill herself on two occasions, he said.

About three weeks after the video was recorded, Ontario Provincial Police officers arrested Azraya when she was out past her 9 pm curfew and took her to the Lake of the Woods District Hospital in Kenora, according to her family. That night, April 15, she ran away from the hospital.

Her body was found two days later in a tree across the street from the hospital. She had hung herself from the branches.

According to her friends and relatives, the videos show police didn't know how to deal with the troubled teenager. Her family is calling for a coroner's inquest to help shed light on the circumstances around her death.

"I think that wasn't right at all," her father Marlin Kokopenace said of the police incident. "She was only like 80 pounds and that cop was about 200 pounds."

Related: After the Deaths of Two Teenage Girls, This Aboriginal Community Says the System Failed Them

"After [what happened in] that video, I don't think she would trust police again," he said.

According to a statement her family put out Saturday morning, Azraya's father saw bruises on the girl's arms and legs after the incident.

"He's pretty much pulling her off the ground and being really rough with her, too rough, and that's just going too far," said Darwin, who viewed both videos.

"That cop was putting too much pressure on her [with his knee], and he should have just let a female cop do the work," he said, referring to the part where the officer pins Azraya down with his knee.

VICE News reached out to Kenora OPP and provincial OPP communications but did not hear back by press time.

But Fred Iannuccilli, a former Toronto police sergeant with 35 years experience, sees things differently. He viewed the first video but was not able to watch the second due to a poor internet connection.

There's not enough information about what happened before or after the video was recorded to conclude whether the officer acted appropriately, he told VICE News.

"On the video it looks like a big violent thing, that he went into third gear without giving her a chance, but he could have been there for 15 minutes trying to deal with her [before that]," he said.

Going into a situation like this one, the officer would want to incapacitate the person, remove any weapons and restrain them, he said. Once an officer is talking to someone, Iannuccilli continued, the person is the legal responsibility of the officer, and they need to ensure that the person is under their control so they don't hurt themselves or someone else.

"The best thing you can do is handcuff them, but you have to get them into that position first," he said.

It's also not possible to tell how much a person will resist based on their gender and age, he added.

"It all depends on the situation," the former sergeant said. "You've got to make a split-second decision."

Follow Hilary Beaumont on Twitter: @HilaryBeaumont

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