THE RCMP have notified Manitoba’s police watchdog of a controversial August 2019 arrest in Winnipeg — in which an officer knelt on the neck of a suspect, who shouted “I can’t breathe” — following a Free Press report which brought the incident to light.

THE RCMP have notified Manitoba’s police watchdog of a controversial August 2019 arrest in Winnipeg — in which an officer knelt on the neck of a suspect, who shouted "I can’t breathe" — following a Free Press report which brought the incident to light.

The Mounties referred the matter to the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba on Wednesday, one day after the Free Press published cellphone footage of the arrest.

"I found the video very disturbing. Hearing a man clearly informing police officers that he cannot breathe is all too present in our collective consciousness," Manitoba RCMP assistant commissioner Jane MacLatchy said in a written statement.

"Let me be very clear, the RCMP does not teach nor endorse any technique where RCMP officers place a knee on the head or neck."

On August 1, 2019, Nathan Lasuik, 44, of Fort McMurray, Alta., arrived to Winnipeg to attend a funeral and visit family. While at James Richardson International Airport, he was involved in a dispute which resulted in the RCMP being called.

Lasuik is accused of assaulting a man, then assaulting two RCMP officers who responded to the scene. He is currently on trial and the allegations have not been proven in court.

He claims the officers breached his Charter rights by using excessive force during the arrest.

SUPPLIED                                                                    

Nathan Lasuik is arrested by RCMP at James Richardson International Airport August 1, 2019.

Winnipeg Free Press 2021

SUPPLIED Nathan Lasuik is arrested by RCMP at James Richardson International Airport August 1, 2019. Winnipeg Free Press 2021

A cellphone video recorded by Lasuik’s father shows one officer pinning the side of his neck to the ground with his knee. Lasuik shouts he cannot breathe.

In the written statement Wednesday, MacLatchy said RCMP officers "may place a knee on the upper body of an individual to gain control" in order to handcuff them, but officers are trained to place the knee "just below the shoulder blade."

Nonetheless, MacLatchy said there needs to be "as much context as possible provided regarding the incident."

"The court has ordered unedited surveillance video from the airport to be released, which I believe shows the totality of the events that occurred that night," MacLatchy said.

"When officers arrived on the scene, they tried for an extended period of time to de-escalate the situation and deal with the male, without the use of force."

MacLatchy said the officers responded to a situation where a member of the public had been assaulted, and were assaulted in turn, adding it is "completely unacceptable for anyone to assault a police officer."

"This is a difficult situation for any police officer to deal with. However, a knee to the neck is not the response for which our officers are trained, and this incident needs to be further examined," MacLatchy said.

Lasuik’s arrest came 10 months before George Floyd died May 25, 2020, after then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin used a knee to pin his neck to the ground for more than eight minutes, sparking international outrage and protests.

Chauvin was later convicted of murder and sentenced to 22.5 years in U.S. prison.

MacLatchy said the incident was referred to the IIU for a potential investigation as soon as the RCMP became aware of it. "Please trust me when I say we are looking into this."

Lasuik’s trial is set to resume Aug. 30, with defence testimony from a use-of-force expert.

with files from Dean Pritchard

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
Reporter

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.