Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Former refugee alleges abuse

Claims harsh treatment at hands of police

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We all know Winnipeg has a gang problem.

And that policing has never been more difficult or more dangerous for the officers who patrol the city's core. With that acknowledged, I have someone who wants to -- actually needs to -- tell you a story.

"ö "ö "ö

Jackson Nahayo had spent a sleepless night crying. And now, at the suggestion of a reporter from a Christian newspaper, he was emailing me, asking to meet.

So late Monday afternoon I joined him in the parking lot of the 7-Eleven at Ellice Avenue and Maryland Street, the place he encountered Winnipeg police officers early Sunday morning.

The following is his account -- his allegations -- of what happened there.

He thinks it was about 2:15 a.m. when it started.

The 23-year-old nursing student had just dropped off his girlfriend and was parked at the side of the 7-Eleven in her white Cadillac Catera.

A police cruiser pulled in beside him and an officer got out.

"He said, 'What the hell are you doing here?'"

"I said, 'I'm just texting my girlfriend. Is there something wrong, officer?'"

The officer, who was standing beside the driver's door, didn't respond to the question.

"He said, 'Put your hands where I can see them.'"

Jackson put his hands on the steering wheel. He remembered being spot-checked by police near Central Park before. Unfairly, he thought. This time, to feel safer, he told the officer he wanted to use his cellphone to record what was happening.

The officer reacted, Jackson said, by grabbing his hand, "rolling" his thumb back and taking his cellphone.

"And I'm like, 'Look, you're hurting me.'"

The next thing Jackson knew, there were cruisers and cops everywhere.

"I was terrified," Jackson recalled.

He said two other officers climbed into the car, and the one beside him began searching the glove compartment. But when officer in the front seat reached toward him -- as if to frisk him -- Jackson was startled and pulled back.

"That's when he shoved me on the shoulder and jabbed me in the ribs with his fist."

There were people watching by this time and Jackson began yelling for help.

"I'm being mugged by the police," Jackson recalled screaming. "And I said, 'Look, I'm not a criminal.'"

Jackson said the officer who had first approached him and taken his cellphone reacted to that.

"He said, 'A lot of you guys are. And we are trying to get you off the streets.'"

Jackson said he told the officer he was being racist.

"I said, 'Sir, I hope that your children will grow up to have love and to accommodate other people despite their colour or anything.'

"And he said, 'Shut up already. My children know who is good and who is not.'"

Jackson alleges he turned to the one officer standing beside the car who seemed to be a "nice guy," and asked why he wasn't helping.

Why was he just standing there?

"He said, 'I'll explain what's happening here.' So he started telling me that someone called the police (saying) two males, driving a similar car -- a white car -- had guns and abducted a person."

Police later confirmed that there had been a call similar to that in the 800 block of Ellice.

Then, the "nice guy" officer just looked at him, Jackson recalled.

"He looked like he was embarrassed. He said, 'You're the wrong guy.'"

According to Jackson, the police returned his cellphone, but without some of the data that had been stored in it.

And then the police left.

Monday, in the same parking lot, Jackson described how he felt about what happened.

"They told me they were fighting crime. And they committed crime. That's what I think they did to me."

He said he is sure there are good police officers. But it is their responsibility to stop the bad behaviour of other officers. That was what he was hoping after police Chief Keith McCaskill returned my call about the allegations and asked me for Jackson's phone number. Jackson received a call from a member of the professional standards unit Monday evening and again Tuesday morning.

Jackson said the PSU member informed him the unit has seized some evidence -- surveillance tape from the 7-Eleven parking lot.

"ö "ö "ö

There's something I haven't told you about Jackson.

He was a refugee when he came to Canada in his mid-teens via his homeland of Burundi, then Congo and Zambia.

And he's had some experience with gangs.

When he was six, he and his nine-year-old sister were abducted by men with guns. They were rebel militia who later beat him and left him for dead in the jungle when he refused an order to shoot his sister.

Which explains, at least in part, why Jackson was so traumatized by what he experienced Sunday morning. To Jackson, it felt way too familiar.

"Guys with guns," he said. "Ganging on me."


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 22, 2009 B1

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