GAIL MARTIN, Independent Editor
A one-minute video clip on YouTube, showing Waterloo Region Police officers arresting a 23-year-old Elmira male, has sparked an online debate about how much force is necessary.
The video, labelled “Police Brutality Elmira,” had more than 2,000 views as of press time. It shows one officer holding the man, while another officer applies two knee strikes and one blow with the hand, while they attempt to handcuff the individual.
The man can be heard crying out, saying at times that he can’t breathe, and then asking for a drink of water while the officers attempt to restrain him.
After the individual is subdued, however, there is no further use of force on the part of police.
The video has also showed up as a link on various Facebook accounts, with residents sharing their dismay over the incident, with many suggesting the use of force wasn’t necessary.
The incident took place on Arthur Street in downtown Elmira, at 2:43 a.m. on Oct. 28.
Elmira resident Mike Floto said he posted the video to YouTube after another man filmed the incident and posted it on Facebook, only to have it taken down.
Floto admits that he did not witness the event himself.
“I just kind of thought it was a ridiculous incident,” said Floto. “I had enough of police not being held accountable for what they do.”
According to Waterloo Region police chief Matt Torigian, who was asked about the video during a presentation at a Woolwich council meeting on Tuesday, nothing could be further from the truth.
“If there is ever an incident brought to our attention that even hints at improper behaviour, we take it very seriously, and act on it,” said Torigian, who cautioned council members against making a judgment based on a short video clip.
“Once in awhile, we encounter disagreeable people,” said Torigian. “We are trained to use as little force as possible, but that doesn’t mean no force.”
According to use of force guidelines followed by Waterloo Regional Police, officers are permitted to use physical force when an individual is actively resisting arrest, which can include trying to get away, or not following instructions.
The event was witnessed by Elmira resident Dave Craig, who filmed the incident.
Craig said he came onto the scene two minutes prior to the start of filming. He saw the one officer wrestling with the man on the ground, and then the other officer arrived on the scene, jumped on the car, and “immediately started kneeing the guy.”
Craig admits that the man on the ground was not completely restrained by the time the second officer arrived.
When the use of force guidelines were described to Craig, he said he still felt the officer crossed the line.
“I felt it was excessive,” said Craig, who said that the officer’s knee strikes were actually four or five, and started prior to filming. And when the officer struck the man, Craig, who was across the street at the time, said he used a fist, not an open hand. Craig said that the entire confrontation likely lasted 30 seconds.
When the man was restrained, the second officer stopped the use of force, said Craig.
According to information provided by Rural North division of Waterloo Regional Police, the 23-year-old Elmira man had been approached by police for being publicly intoxicated, along with two other young men.
The incident started when an officer noticed a drunken individual leaving the Central Tavern and getting on a scooter, driving down the middle of Arthur Street. He ordered the man to get off the scooter, and his friends, who also appeared intoxicated, started to intervene.
The man shown in the video resisted arrest for public drunkenness by running away, eventually being caught near the Elmira library.
He continued to struggle, and, during the video, was keeping his hands in his pocket, contrary to instructions from police.
Once handcuffed, the man, along with his friends, was charged with public intoxication, and all three were taken to their homes.
There were no reports of injury in the incident.