Viral cellphone video from 2015 showed officer pinning First Nations man to ground and punching him
CBC News Posted: Jun 15, 2016
The Yukon RCMP officer who was captured on video making a violent arrest last year in Whitehorse did nothing wrong and will not be charged, according to investigators.
The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) was called in as an impartial third party to investigate after the video was posted online in April 2015. The video quickly went viral, prompting public outrage and accusations of police brutality.
In the video, an RCMP officer holds a man on the ground in someone’s kitchen, while several angry voices are heard off-camera.
“I’m doing nothing,” the man says while he’s held on the ground. “Why are you hitting me?” he asks, before the officer appears to punch him in the head. The officer then forces the man onto his stomach and handcuffs him.
“The video is very difficult to watch,” says a statement from ASIRT, released Tuesday. “It clearly depicts violent acts that would be disturbing to any reasonable person.
“That having been said, one must be careful not to allow the natural and almost instinctive reaction to the video to have a disproportionate influence on the necessary objective and unbiased assessment of the facts.”
Only part of the encounter
According to ASIRT, the video depicts only a portion of the encounter between the officer and Josh Skookum, the First Nations man arrested.
Investigators reviewed all events leading up to the arrest, and determined that the officer’s use of force was warranted.
The officer had reportedly been called to a Whitehorse residence after someone called 911, complaining of a noisy party. The officer arrived, alone, to hear male and female voices shouting in argument.
He entered the house and found “a party going on,” with people drinking. Skookum was sitting in the kitchen.
The officer asked for his name and ID, and Skookum eventually tried to push past the officer “in what appeared to be an attempt to flee, almost knocking the officer to the ground,” according to ASIRT.
A struggle followed, with the officer grabbing Skookum’s arm. Skookum then “deliberately elbowed the officer’s face, striking a glancing blow,” the ASIRT release says.
The struggle continued with both the officer and Skookum dropping to the floor. That’s when someone came into the kitchen with a cellphone to record the rest of the encounter.
Skookum was charged with four offences, including assault of a police officer and resisting arrest, but prosecutors later withdrew those charges, citing “no reasonable prospect of conviction.” ASIRT says he later admitted to investigators that he was in violation of conditions of release when he was arrested.
Use of force was ‘objectively reasonable’
Because of Skookum’s background, a Yukon First Nations elder was selected to act as an impartial observer and community liaison with ASIRT.
ASIRT turned its investigation findings over to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, which decided the officer’s use of of force was “objectively reasonable,” and did not warrant criminal charges.
“In the circumstances of the situation, alone and in an increasingly hostile environment, it was reasonable that the officer would need to quickly gain control of the man and the situation before things deteriorated any further,” according to ASIRT.
“As disturbing as it may be, a police officer is lawfully justified in using force in certain circumstances.”
It’s not known whether the unnamed officer still works in Yukon. When ASIRT’s investigation began, RCMP said he had been reassigned to administrative duties.