Police brutality is never warranted and must never be condoned

By Arnold Auguste Wednesday October 30 2013 in Opinion
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By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Senior Editor

 

A police officer in Barrie, just north of Toronto, has been jailed for one year after being found guilty of assault causing bodily harm and fabricating evidence to frame an innocent man, according to a report in the Sunday Sun last weekend.

 

Const. Jason Nevill was also denied bail pending an appeal which one judge called “frivolous”, saying it has no hope of succeeding.

 

Yes, you read that right. A police officer has been jailed for assaulting a civilian. But, not in Toronto, though. In Barrie.

 

Here is the story, according to the Sun.

 

Jason Stern was returning to a mall in November 2011 to retrieve his wallet when he was accosted and detained by two security guards. Apparently, there was an incident earlier in the mall in which a foam Christmas ornament was broken by one of Stern’s friends.

 

Here is how the Sun’s Tracy McLaughlin tells it:

 

“The three chat calmly until the police officer arrives.

 

“Within seconds, the burly officer, an avid weightlifter and wrestling fan, attacks the smaller Stern, throws him to the ground like a rag doll, handcuffs him, then continues punching and kneeing him to unconsciousness as he lay face down in his own pool of blood.

 

“But still the punches to his head go on.

 

“Bloodied, bruised and in pain, Stern … watches the officer and guards take buckets of water to wash away the pools of blood.”

 

After his wounds were stitched up in hospital, Stern was arrested and faced up to two years in jail. He claims that the cop told him to plead guilty.

 

But, there was a video. Stern’s father hired a lawyer who was able to get access to the video which showed what really happened. The charges against Stern were dropped and Nevill charged.

 

But this story gets even more scary when it is learned that the police officer involved is known to be a brute as Stern asks: “…why did they (the police) let a dangerous police officer roam the streets, knowing he had 20 public complaints against him? Why did they let him loose so that he could beat me to a pulp?”

 

And, that is the problem. It is no secret that there are abusive cops, probably on every force, who are known both to their fellow officers and to their superiors as such. In this case, according to the newspaper report, there were some 20 complaints against Nevill. How come, as Stern asked, he was still allowed to “roam the streets”?

 

Senior police officers – from the chief on down – make fine speeches about how much things have changed and how much they are doing to ensure that their officers work within the law and perform their jobs in a professional manner. And, for the most part, they are correct. For the most part cops on the frontlines act in a responsible manner when dealing with members of the public.

 

But, there are others who don’t. That is no secret. In fact, in private conversations some officers will admit as much.

 

What is scary about the Stern situation is that, on top of the severe thrashing he received, Stern could also have ended up in jail for as much as two years because the police officer allegedly falsified his notes to place the blame squarely on him.

 

Thank God for the video.

 

In fact, video recordings have been playing an increasingly significant role as civilians try to defend themselves against false charges by police officers or to show the brutality inflicted on citizens by over-zealous cops. It is also, as others have suggested, playing a role in restraining cops who might think twice before acting improperly with cameras rolling.

 

But what if the cops take issue with being photographed? According to senior officers, it is within the rights of individuals to take photographs in public places, including taking a photograph of – or videotaping – police activity.

 

Really?

 

In another story this week, also in the Sun, columnist Joe Warmington tells of an incident earlier this year involving John Downs, a reporter from Newstalk 1010, who was roughed up by Toronto police when he tried to take a photo of “a young man lying on the street with blood covering the pavement beside him”.

 

According to Warmington “a Toronto firefighter took exception even when Downs told him he was media” and called over the cops. And an officer told Downs that the firefighter said Downs had taken a swing at him. Does that make sense?

 

Downs is quoted as saying that he was “thrown face first on to the sidewalk. My left arm was held behind my back. My right arm pinned under my chest…”

 

Downs, who had been on his way home after having dinner and drinks with his girlfriend and some friends, said he was taken to 14 Division and locked up overnight.

 

These stories are not coming from cop-hating media. The Sun and Newstalk 1010 are among the most police-friendly media in the city.

 

When we write about these incidents, it is not to disparage our police; it is because we expect better from them. There would be times when force is needed in carrying out their duties but abuse and brutality are never warranted and must never be condoned, not by fellow officers and, especially, not by the chief and his senior officers.

 

We expect – no, we demand – much better from them.

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