Video footage from a security camera obtained by Megaphone shows two Vancouver police officers repeatedly kneeing and kicking a Downtown Eastside homeless man without provocation. The homeless man was then charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm the officer.
On the morning of Saturday, June 26, two officers approached Ali Eltah Ishag, a 47-year-old Sudanese refugee who is homeless, at the corner of Carrall and East Hastings. He was wanted for outstanding warrants for mischief and threatening.
The video shows that after briefly speaking to Ishag, the officers grab his arms and immediately begin to knee and kick Ishag’s legs and mid-section. Ishag attempts to defend himself against the officers who throw him against the wall and continue to knee him. The three then struggle as they move eastwards along Hastings.
In total, the two officers administer at least nine knee and leg kicks on Ishag in the video.
Eyewitnesses claim that the after the two officers and Ishag exit camera view, they fell on top of one another and continued to struggle on the ground. They allege that after more officers arrived on the scene, Ishag was handcuffed and continued to be kneed.
“It was really excessive,” said a woman who sells cigarettes on East Hastings and did not want her name published for fear of retribution. “They had him down already and they kept kicking him. His mouth was all bloody. There was no reason for that at all.”
“It was a shocking event,” said Ron Wickstrom, who is a Megaphone vendor and witnessed the event from across the street. “I couldn’t believe it when I saw the police assaulting a citizen.”
On Monday, June 28, the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) issued apress release claiming Ishag actively resisted arrest and that he “continually tried to disarm one of the officers by trying to pull the officer’s gun out of its holster. Unsuccessful at getting the officer’s gun, the man then grabbed the officer’s collapsible baton and before he could wield it against the officers, additional officers arrived and subdued the man.”
The police charged Ishag with obstructing a peace officer, assaulting a peace officer with intent to resist arrest and disarming a peace officer. The press release also mentions that Ishag is facing a charge of assaulting an officer in Calgary.
In an interview with Megaphone, Ishag, who does not speak English well, said that he was reaching to show the officers’ his identification when they began to knee him. He said he never tried to reach for the officer’s gun or baton.
“It’s wrong,” he said. “They hit me. I didn’t hit him. I tried to get out of harm.”
After being shown the video, David Eby, executive director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), said the officers’ actions were contrary to police use of force and de-escalation training and that the press release should have been corrected considering the video evidence.
“The police should have immediately corrected the record and they should never have issued the press release,” he said. “It shows a serious lack of responsibility within the Vancouver Police Department around how they do media and it calls into question every single release issued by the VPD that’s favourable to them in a use of force incident.”
The BCCLA is filing a policy complaint with the Vancouver police board on Thursday and “demanding that the police explain its misleading press release”.
Although the police obtained a copy of the video and entered it in as evidence, Vancouver police spokesperson Const. Lindsey Houghton would only comment on the press release.
“[The video is] evidence before the courts [would] not only be inappropriate and unprofessional [to comment on], but we would get into a lot of trouble from the courts and it could potentially jeopardize the entire case,” he said.
Ishag was released on bail Monday, July 5 under the conditions that he keep the peace, not posses any weapons and enrol in English language classes.
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