Police, cameras and public accountability – police misconduct leads to stay of charges.
There is no question police have a difficult and at times dangerous job. I think police do their best and try hard to be reasonable and helpful. But police do have a tremendous amount of power and that is why there is so much news coverage when things go wrong and they don’t act responsibly. Cameras worn by police as well as CCTV cameras seem to be working to make police more accountable.
Being arrested is stressful and it is not surprising that people aren’t on there best behaviour while intoxicated. Police and corrections officers regularly face scary and dangerous situations.
Recently a man with mental health issues and sickle cell anemia was arrested, denied access to medical care and forced to spend the night in cell naked with no blankets or mattress. The courts in Ontario found he was treated so badly that they stayed his charges.
The key piece of evidence in this case was the video of the cell showing the interaction between police officer Venn and Mr. Alafe. The first few hours of his incarceration were uneventful but around midnight, Mr. Alafe asked for his medication. A confrontation escalated to the point of a physical altercation and with Officer Venn who then removed everything in the cell, including his prison jumpsuit, bedding and mattress forcing Mr. Alafe to remain in jail cell naked but for a pair of socks.
The judge noted that rather than de-escalate the situation to reach a resolutions, the officer’s actions were unreasonable and amounted to bullying. He went on to say that the police have a difficult job but that does not excuse Officer Venn’s behaviour that night.
Of particular concern to the judge was that Officer Venn decided that Mr. Alafe did not require medical treatment for his sickle cell anemia noting that he didn’t even google “sickle cell anemia” to see what may happen if he did not take his medication. The next morning, new officers came on shift and were able to work with Mr. Alafe in de-escalating the conflict.
Police body cameras, and CCTV inside police cells and prisons could cross the line into invasion of privacy, but overall are an important tool to help protect both police, and those in custody.
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Peter G. Duke - Associate Lawyer
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