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One day after a witness video showing an officer repeatedly kicking a suspect laying face-down on the ground during an arrest went public, Winnipeg Police Service Chief Danny Smyth reached out to Indigenous leaders to address concerns about the controversial case.
Multiple videos from various angles have now been released, showing Flinn Nolan Dorian, a 33-year-old Indigenous man, being kicked twice, repeatedly kneed, and punched seven times by officers during a scuffle and arrest Thursday morning in the Exchange District.
Police were called to the scene after reports of an intoxicated man destroying property and brandishing a handgun near the Centennial Concert Hall. It was later determined the gun was an airsoft replica; Dorian is alleged to have also been in possession of a knife and metal bar.
At a Friday afternoon news conference, WPS spokesman Const. Jay Murray said the officers’ actions were justified and consistent with training — going so far as to suggest the kicks that sparked accusations of police brutality may have saved Dorian’s life.
"Admittedly, it’s a tough video to watch… (But) I’m going to answer bluntly: that kick likely saved his life. If that individual gets a hold of that knife that’s in his waistband and officers see that, and he has that knife in his hand, you’re potentially in a lethal-force encounter," Murray said.
"So as tough as it is to see that kick, that kick helps (brings) that situation down to a point where we can handcuff him safely."
“Admittedly, it’s a tough video to watch… (But) I’m going to answer bluntly: that kick likely saved his life. If that individual gets a hold of that knife that’s in his waistband and officers see that, and he has that knife in his hand, you’re potentially in a lethal-force encounter.” — WPS spokesman Const. Jay Murray
Murray repeatedly walked the media through surveillance footage of the incident, explaining why officers responded the way they did.
The local controversy comes at a time when tensions between police and public are at a fever pitch in North America, sparked by the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, by Minneapolis police.
Smyth spoke to this tension in a written statement in advance of the Justice 4 Black Lives march in Winnipeg on June 6.
"As we have all witnessed, years of building trust within the community can be lost in an instant. What we do going forward matters. As always: look after our community, look after the people in our community," Smyth wrote.
"Take special care of those that identify as Black, those that identify as Indigenous, and other people from visible minority groups or those from marginalized communities."
Murray said Friday the WPS chose to hold the news conference to be transparent, explain its use-of-force policies, and address concerns surrounding the arrest.
"This is exactly the outcome that we strive for. Again, we would probably have to be answering a lot of different questions had we used lethal force on this individual. We’d be asked why we didn’t resolve the situation in the way that’s seen in the video," Murray said.
However, questions remain.
The WPS did not issue a news release on the incident until after a video of the arrest was posted to social media Thursday afternoon, sparking outrage from some quarters of the internet (and support from others).
In its initial statement, the WPS reported "officers recovered (a) handgun at the scene," despite the fact Dorian had been in possession of an airsoft replica — as evidenced by no charges for firearm-related criminal offences.
This was not revealed to the public until Friday afternoon.
In total, Dorian faces 10 criminal charges in connection with the incident, including failure to comply with a probation order. The probation order stems from 2019, when he pleaded guilty to three counts of domestic assault.
Dorian’s lawyer, James Wood, declined comment when reached Friday by the Free Press.
Meantime, Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, told the Free Press he was "shocked" and "gutted" by video footage of the arrest.
"I was disgusted by it. I believe there’s three officers directly on top of the individual, then you have the other officer soccer-kicking this dude. I think it was unacceptable. Unfortunately, there’s so much distrust in this situation," Dumas said.
“I was disgusted by it. I believe there’s three officers directly on top of the individual, then you have the other officer soccer-kicking this dude. I think it was unacceptable. Unfortunately, there’s so much distrust in this situation." — Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs
"It’s very disheartening when you see with your own eyes, members of our society that we have a social contract with, that are supposed to serve and protect us, acting in this way."
Dumas said Smyth did reach out to him by text message regarding the incident, but they have not yet spoken nor scheduled a time to do so.
Manitoba Metis Federation president David Chartrand also condemned the officer who kicked Dorian, saying his actions constituted "excessive force" and would bring a "black eye" to the WPS.
"There’s not a question for me on this one, no question at all, that the officer used excessive force. You don’t have the right to kick someone when they’re laying and pinned down," he said, adding he hopes the officer will be held accountable.
Nevertheless, Chartrand repeatedly cautioned against painting police with a broad brush, saying he believes the vast majority are good at their job, and he does not support calls to defund or abolish police.
At an unrelated news conference Friday, Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said he was grateful no one involved in the incident was seriously injured.
"Anytime you see a use-of-force video, they’re often difficult to watch, and this one is no exception. I appreciated being able to see the additional videos (Friday) and hear about the overall context of the situation," Bowman said.
"There’s not a question for me on this one, no question at all, that the officer used excessive force. You don’t have the right to kick someone when they’re laying and pinned down." — Manitoba Metis Federation president David Chartrand
Kevin Walby, a University of Winnipeg criminologist who has studied police use-of-force protocols throughout Canada, was sharply critical of the officers’ actions during an interview Thursday with the Free Press.
On Friday, he doubled down.
"The new video (released by the WPS) doesn’t change my original concern about excessive force. This new video shows that he’s not using any of the weapons, he’s not brandishing them or waving them at the officers," Walby said.
"The actual confrontation begins with the officers coming up behind him and trying to tackle him. Those uses of force at the end of the video should still be thought of as excessive and should be looked at by lawyers and the (Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba)."
— with files from Dean Pritchard and Joyanne Pursaga
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.
Updated on Friday, June 12, 2020 at 7:39 PM CDT: Updates background image
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