Monthly Archives: February 2018

Shocking Video of Pierre Coriolan’s Killing by Montreal Police Released as Family Sues City

We have written extensively on the lack of proper public reporting of police killings of civilians in Canada, the fact that police control the flow of information and what is released publicly, and the lack of truly independent and autonomous oversight of police in Canada. Not all provinces in Canada have oversight agencies at all to investigate cases of police harm to civilians and those that exist are not truly independent or autonomous. Some, like the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI) in Quebec rely on active police force members for investigations.

These facts were put fully, and painfully and violently, on display on Wednesday, February 7, 2018, as the family of Montreal police shooting victim Pierre Coriolan announced that they are suing the City of Montreal over the “brutal and excessive” police intervention in which their loved one was killed by officer on June 27, 2017. The family also released a horrific video  of the police killing taken by a neighbor on a cellphone and passed to the family recently. It shows Coriolan being shot approximately 45 seconds into the police intervention. Lawyers for the Coriolan family suggest that the entire direct encounter lasted about one minute and ten seconds, during which time multiple weapons were used against the victim, including after he had been shot by police and was on the ground.

Pierre, Coriolan, a 58-year-old Black immigrant from Haiti, was shot and killed by in the hallway outside his apartment after police reportedly responded to calls about a man yelling and smashing things inside his apartment on Robillard Avenue near St-André Street, in the city’s gay village.

The killing again raises issues of police violence, poverty, racism, and mental health issues. In addition, there have been concerns about the information provided publicly by police and the BEI regarding the killings of civilians by police.

 

The Video

The four minute cellphone video, recorded by the neighbor, an eyewitness to the killing, shows a chaotic scene in the hallway of the apartment building. Officers apparently use plastic bullets, a taser, and their firearms against Coriolan. He was allegedly holding some object, variously described as a screwdriver or a knife.

The BEI have reported in a statement released at the time of the shooting that police first received 911 calls about Coriolan making noise in his apartment at about 7 PM. The cellphone video begins at 7:30 PM. It is not certain from the video how long officers had been on the scene at that point or what their engagement with Coriolan involved up to that point.

The first five seconds of the video are audio only, without recorded video images. The audio records what is believed to be a gun firing a plastic bullet, followed by the crackling sound of a taser having been fired. Five officers then become visible with weapons drawn. They are crowded into the hallway, their backs to the camera. Other officers off-camera can be heard yelling from around a corner in the hallway.

Pierre Coriolan comes into view eight seconds into the video. He appears to exit his apartment and walk toward the officers. Very soon after he moves from his apartment two or three gunshots are heard, but the image is obscured as the neighbor with the camera ducks somewhat into his apartment. When the camera focuses back on the hallway, an officer is heard yelling, “À terre! (Hit the ground!).”

Coriolan is in view, on his knees, with four officers visible, and still pointing weapons at him. The victim is heard telling the officers, in French, “Pas capable (I can’t).”

At that point, one of the officers is heard, incredibly, asking a colleague in French, “Do you have another shot?” After an unintelligible response, the officer yells, “Take the other shot.”

At that point, two shots ring out. It is not clear what has been fired, plastic bullets or live ammunition.

In response to the gunshots, Pierre Coriolan collapses fully on the ground. Only his legs are visible in the frame. Only then is an officer heard to yell, “Knife.”

A first officer approaches Coriolan and kneeling beside him, appears to search for a weapon, rather than offering any medical care or attention. Shockingly, another officer then approaches Coriolan, extends a telescopic baton, and swings it twice with heavy force toward the victim’s arm. Coriolan is heard to grunt in pain.

Officers lower their weapons, and one is heard speaking into his radio to say, “A man, possibly injured by gunshot.” Clearly they knew he had been hit and injured.

The officers are standing talking to each other calmly. One says, “It’s a screwdriver he had.” Another officer says, “No, it was a knife.” Only then are officers heard saying, “He’s injured. He’s hit.”

Coriolan’s legs can be seen convulsing as one officer says the stricken man is still breathing. Another officer responds saying, “No, he’s not breathing.”

The video ends when an officer demands that witnesses in the hallway get back into their apartments. Pierre Coriolan would be pronounced dead later that evening in hospital.

 

Disturbing Actions Leave Disturbing Questions

Pierre Coriolan’s killing was met with protests and calls for action by community activists and organizers, including Black Lives Matter organizers. Community activists Will Prosper and Maguy Métellus joined the family’s lawyers and Joanne Coriolan, the victim’s niece at the press conference releasing the video and announcing the family lawsuit. The lawsuit was launched by two of Coriolan’s sisters who were not present at the news conference. They are seeking a total of $163,426 in damages.

Prosper, a former RCMP officer, expressed shock and disbelief upon first viewing the video. In his words: “The first question I asked myself is, ‘Why don’t you take the time?’ There’s no rush” (quoted Rukavina in 2018).

Prosper raised the question on everyone’s mind since the killing last year, which is why a man was shot and killed for making noise in his own apartment. As Prosper points out: ”The only thing Pierre was threatening was his own apartment. He was not a threat to anybody else” (quoted in Rukavina 2018).

Prosper was even more stark in his questioning of why a kneeling man was viewed as such a threat. He asks: “What is the threat of a black man kneeling down? It’s a firing squad he’s facing” (quoted in Rukavina 2018).

The only time on the video recording that police even directly speak to Coriolan is when they order him to the ground after he has already been shot. Says Propser: “You see there’s no communication, nothing mentioned to him as he’s kneeling down” (quoted in Rukavina 2018). After the man has been shot and is on the ground police do not even ask after his condition. Instead they hit him with a telescopic baton.

Alain Arsenault, a member of the family’s legal team, said that they have little faith in the BEI investigation and that said a lawsuit is the best available avenue to obtain justice for Coriolan. It may be the only way that the public can find out any meaningful information about the actions of police.

Arsenault said that the decision to release the video was prompted partly by frustration over the slow pace of the investigation and the oversight agency’s refusal to provide updates to the family. These are repeated concerns expressed by family members of people killed by police across Canada.

 

The video can be found here: https://news.google.com/news/video/ow10u5_zod4/dDnbIQ6E5KSZOqMJZ2vQh0aMMunjM?hl=en&gl=US&ned=us

 

Further Reading

Rukavina, Steve. 2018. “Family of Montreal Man Fatally Shot by Police Sues Over “Brutal Intervention.” CBC News. February 7.  http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/montreal-video-police-shooting-rcmp-coriolan-1.4523348


62-Year-Old Woman Dies in Custody of Timmins Police Service (Feb. 4, 2018)

It has been a deadly weekend at the hands of police in Timmins, Ontario. A 62-year-old woman died in custody of the Timmins Police Service on February 4, 2018. This is the second person left dead through contact with the Timmins police that weekend after they shot and killed a 21-year-old man on February 3. This is a force in a small city in northeastern Ontario.

The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) reports that officers with the Timmins Police Service were called to the Timmins hospital to investigate a woman, for undisclosed reasons. The woman was apparently asked to leave, but a short time later was allegedly causing an unspecified “disturbance” at a shelter in the area of Ross Avenue East and Hemlock Street in the city According to the SIU, officers arrested the woman then took her to the police station and placed her in a cell.

At about 10:00 PM the woman was taken to the hospital. According to the SIU, the woman was pronounced dead on Sunday, February 4.

The police accounts of the death have not been independently confirmed publicly. Police have not released the name of the woman.


Post-Mortem Exam Scheduled for February 5, 2018, for 21-Year-Old Killed by Timmins Police

Few details have been released publicly after a 21-year-old man was shot and killed by police in Timmins, Ontario, sometime around the early morning of February 3, 2018. It has been announced that a post-mortem examination on the victim’s body was scheduled for February 5. The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) has only said that officers of the Timmins Police Service were deployed to an emergency medical services building to “deal with a man” in some unspecified way for some unspecified reason. They say that at some point their was an “interaction” (again unspecified) in which an officer fired a gun, striking and killing the man.  The SIU reports that it has assigned three investigators and three forensic investigators to the case. It has identified one “subject officer” and seven “witness officers.” Results of the post-mortem have not been released at this point.


Timmins Police Shoot and Kill Man (Feb. 3, 2018)

Police in Timmins, Ontario, a small city in the northeast of the province shot and killed a man on the morning of February 3, 2018. According to the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the agency that examines cases of police harm to civilians in the province, the police shooting took place at an emergency medical services building in the city. The SIU reports that officers with the Timmins Police Service went to the building allegedly to deal with a man. They say that when the man fled, officers followed. At some point, the report that there was an “interaction,” in which one of the officers fired a gun, striking the man. The victim was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead.

The SIU has assigned three investigators and three forensic investigators to the case, and has identified one “subject officer” and seven “witness officers.” It has not been explained publicly what the so-called interaction involved or why an officer decided to fire their weapon. None of the information provided by police has been independently confirmed publicly.


Secrecy Surrounds “Tragic Incident” Involving Police that Leaves One Dead at Hospital in St. John, NB

Neither police nor Horizon Health representatives are speaking publicly about a “tragic incident” that left a patient dead at the Saint John Regional Hospital sometime over the weekend of January 26-28, 2018. The “tragic incident” was aid to have happened on Saturday but the exact time of death has not been disclosed, nor has the cause of death. For their part, Saint John police have only described the death as “more of a hospital matter than police” which says virtually nothing. The Coroner Services said they had been notified of the death and started an investigation but they refuse comment as well.


Lone Subject Officer Designated in Police Killing of Babak Saidi (43) Outside OPP Detachment on Dec. 23, 2017

Babak Saidi was shot and killed by Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) outside their Morrisburg detachment only minutes after his father dropped him off for a scheduled probation check-in on December 23, 2017. While little has been reported publicly about the details of the killing, as it rarely is in cases of police killings in Canada, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) has designates a lone subject officer in their investigation. This means they believe that a sole officer fired the shot(s) that struck and killed Babak Saidi that day. As is unfortunately the standard practice in Canada the officer responsible for the killing has not been identified publicly. Saidi’s killing is being investigated by the provincial police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit, which has assigned four investigators and three forensic specialists to the case.

The 43-year-old Saidi, whose was born in Iran but came to Canada as a refugee with his family, had been diagnosed with late onset schizophrenia and social paranoia according to his family. They are looking for answers and for mechanisms to address the ongoing use of violence by police toward people experiencing mental health issues.

In the words of Babak Saidi’s sister, Elly Saidi:  “This is yet another shocking example of a lethal police response to an unarmed person with mental health disabilities. I want everyone to learn from this tragic experience” (quoted in Duffy 2018).

Babak Saidi had gone to the same OPP station more than 30 times — every week for nine months — in 2017. Elly Saidi says that the family remains very much in the dark about why his routine check-in at the police station so quickly turned deadly. In her words “It would be good to get an explanation for what happened. I don’t know what instigated it: Why this time was so different than every other time?” (quoted in Duffy 2018).

Saidi’s father, Mehrab Saidi (83), has reported hearing “multiple gunshots” while in his car, moments after dropping off his son at the detachment. He has also said that he was instructed by police to wait at a nearby coffee shop for more information and was only notified of his sons death hours later.

Elly Saidi is chief executive of United World Voices, a registered charity in Ottawa that works with homeless youth and vulnerable women. She says her brother was only diagnosed with schizophrenia early in 2017 as the family had not been able to get a diagnosis for him. In her words: “We told lawyers for many years he needs help. Like a lot of people in his position, they fall through the cracks. He should have been assessed and treated much earlier. We knew there was something wrong with him, but it was hard to get anyone to listen. That’s the frustrating part” (quoted in Duffy 2018).

In the view of Elly Saidi her brother should not have died in the encounter:

“What is beyond doubt is that OPP members involved in this tragedy were unable to peacefully de-escalate this situation. The OPP resorted to a lethal response to an unarmed individual with mental disabilities. I know that things can escalate from zero to 100 in a few seconds with mentally ill people. The police need to know how to deal with that, how to de-escalate and contain the situation.” (quoted in Duffy 2018)

 

Interestingly, Babak Saidi had publicly reported feeling harassed by local police in Brockville, Ontario, where he lived. During a 2003 court hearing, Saidi, then 29, told a judge that police in Brockville “have been on my ass for 10 years” (quoted in Duffy 2018). He continued, telling Ontario Court Justice Charles Anderson : “They don’t like me and I don’t like them” (quoted in Duffy 2018).

In 2017 Ontario’s Office of the Independent Police Review Director compiled records showing that 142 people were fatally shot during interactions with police between January 1990 and December 2016 (Duffy 2018). Calls for de-escalation training have been made repeatedly in studies and reviews on police violence and mental health with no meaningful improvements. At the end of the day police remain the unaccountable monopoly on violence acting with impunity in communities.

 

Further Reading

Duffy, Andrew. 2018. “Babak Saidi was Dropped off at OPP Detachment for Routine Check-In—Minutes Later He was Shot Dead.” Ottawa Citizen January 31. http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/babak-saidi-was-dropped-off-at-opp-detachment-for-routine-probation-check-in-minutes-later-he-was-shot-dead