Officers accused of mistreating woman in distress on bridge

WARNING: This story may contain elements some many find to be disturbing. 
By: Malak Abas · Winnipeg Free Press · 

Two community workers have filed a complaint with the Winnipeg Police Service, saying they witnessed officers berating and swearing at a woman who was attempting to hang herself on the Redwood Bridge.

Jasmine Smith and Angela Desrosiers were driving together on the Redwood Avenue crossing around 2 p.m. Monday, when they saw a female pedestrian slip something around her neck that appeared to be tied to the structure.

Smith and Desrosiers, who both work in Indigenous community support groups, said Friday they stopped their car on the bridge and approached the woman.

“We work in the community, so we’re trained to respond with trauma-informed care,” Smith said. “So we immediately just introduced ourselves, asked if we could help and what was going on.”

The pair said a length of material was tied to an A-frame beam and the woman was standing on the crash barrier between the roadway and sidewalk along the edge of the structure. The woman was responsive and, while in distress, was willing to speak; she lit a cigarette while talking to the duo.

Smith called 911, as Desrosiers attempted to calm the woman.

Within minutes, they said, a Winnipeg Police Service cruiser arrived.

Both women told the Free Press rather than attempt to talk her down, two officers yelled at her to get off the bridge as they sat in their vehicle.

“Not once did we hear them asking her, ‘Are you OK?’ when they pulled up. There was no concern for her well-being… they were annoyed,” Desrosiers said.

Smith said the officers eventually got out of their car and “charged” at the woman, and she became afraid and stepped off the barrier.

Both women say the WPS officers continued to swear at the women after they had pulled her up and cut the length of material attached to the bridge. They slapped the cigarette out of her hand and continued to handle her roughly, even as the woman cried and asked them to be gentle, the pair said.

“She was in pain, and they kept being rough with her and handcuffing her… they wouldn’t stop,” Smith said.

A spokesperson for the police service said Friday the woman in question “eventually went limp” while the officers were on the bridge.

The spokesperson added the matter had been handled appropriately.

“It is standard practice for the WPS to immediately handcuff someone once a high-risk incident has been resolved to ensure that they are unable to harm themselves or others in the immediate moments that follow,” the spokesperson said in an email.

“Based on the preceding steps this individual had taken, it appeared that she was focused on harming herself and needed to quickly be secured.”

The 32-year-old woman was taken to a nearby parking lot in the cruiser, and then transferred to an ambulance and taken to hospital in stable condition.

A family member, who asked not to be named, confirmed she remained in hospital Friday, as her family seeks a support system. The family member said the woman, who is transient, needs a safe place to go to before she is released from hospital.

A Facebook post published by Smith on Monday, which detailed the incident, had received nearly 4,000 shares and hundreds of comments, both supportive and critical of the officers’ alleged conduct.

The WPS said it was aware of the social media attention, and there was “more than one social media post that contradicts (that) version.”

Smith was firm in her stance on the events that day.

“She could have come down on the bridge on her own had she been given a conversation, had been given common decency, been treated with dignity… If they would’ve approached the situation like that, she could’ve come down on her own and gone to get the help she needed,” she said. “It did not have to go the way it went down.”

The situation has been “traumatic” for everyone involved, Smith said, noting she herself has had “terrible” experiences with police.

“I believe the police should have better training and interpersonal skills than that in dealing with somebody who’s in crisis,” Smith said. “It’s unbelievable to me.”

Twitter: malakabas_