An investigation by an independent civilian oversight agency into whether excessive force was used by two West Shore RCMP officers has found they were acting within their rights.
The Independent Investigations Office of BC (IIO) was notified and began an investigation after a woman had her left arm broken while being taken into custody by two West Shore RCMP officers for allegations of fraudulently failing to pay a taxi fare.
A decision from the IIO’s chief civilian details the investigation.
According to a civilian witness, at approximately 8:30 p.m. on Dec. 11, 2019, he took the woman to the West Shore detachment, at her request, after she was unable to pay her fare for a trip in his taxi from downtown Victoria to an undisclosed location on the West Shore. The witness said the woman was positive and upbeat and content to be dealing with the police as if it were “part of the night’s entertainment,” according to a report released on June 10 by the IIO. The witness noted the woman was drunk but appeared more lucid once she arrived at the police station.
The driver and the woman phoned police from outside of the station and were met by two officers.
The driver explained the situation and when officers asked the woman how she was going to pay what she owed, the driver said she “just shrugged her shoulders.”
According to his statement, the officers asked her again at some point in the conversation before putting handcuffs on her. The woman did not want the handcuffs on and was yelling at the officers to take them off before she attempted to get away from the officers’ arms.
The driver noted during her interaction with police, the woman didn’t seem to be taking it very seriously.
“At some point they just said ‘well, we’re going to take you inside,’ and he stood in front of her and told her she was under arrest for fraud, and then she said ‘no, no, no!’ She started screaming and they were arguing,” according to the driver’s statement. The officers then tried to move the woman inside, one on each of her arms while her hands were cuffed behind her back. The driver watched the woman struggle with police as they tried to move her inside the detachment, telling them she was not under arrest and would not go.
“I think the only thing they could have done was tie her up and carry her. But she was trying to get away from them. And I think she would have just run out into the middle of Veterans [Parkway] or something crazy like that. They were having a hard time moving her down the sidewalk.”
At this point, the driver got in his taxi and drove away but as he passed officers trying to move her past the security gate he heard her screaming “no” and something along the lines of “you broke my arm.”
The woman told IIO investigators she went willingly with police to “sort things out,” but was not received sympathetically. According to the report, her memory was of sitting in a chair in a room inside the station talking to two male officers and one female officer. The officers called the woman’s mother, who said she could be at the detachment in 10 minutes to pick up the woman. While they were waiting, the woman said the conversation continued and “I believe they did not like the way I was speaking with them … and I felt like they wanted to punish me at that point for my attitude … so then they said, ‘actually, you are under arrest.’” She said she was handcuffed but did not resist.
The woman described the officers taking her by the arms and leading her away and remembered being taken outside the building forcefully. She told investigators she was uncomfortable with the force officers were using and felt trapped. She noted the officers at a certain point said that was enough and put her on the ground.
A female officer told IIO investigators she became aware of the incident when she was called to take a wheeled restraint chair outside the detachment. When she got there, she found the woman sitting on the curb, clutching her arm, screaming that she was hurt. The other two officers were crouched beside her. The female officer described the woman as belligerent and intoxicated. She also noted that after the incident she’d had a conversation with one of the officers, where he described the woman suddenly dropping her weight and there was the sound of a ‘pop.’
Another officer, who assisted getting the woman into the chair and inside the detachment, described hearing a similar explanation from the two officers.
Video cameras outside and inside the detachment recorded the initial interaction between the officers and the woman, but only the interior camera recorded audio and it was muffled by the glass lobby doors.
The footage shows the taxi driver and the woman arriving outside the detachment where they are met by the two male officers. They engage in conversation and the woman initially appears cheerful, telling officers the debit machine inside the cab wasn’t working, which the driver denies. Not all of the conversation is audible but a short time later one of the officers informs the woman she is under arrest for fraud. The woman appears to be arguing with officers and resisting as they handcuff her. One of the officers asks the woman again how she is going to pay and she responds by saying she can call her mother, to which the officer replies, “you said you weren’t going to call.”
The officer confirms she wants her mother called and can be seen on his cellphone. He explains what is happening and then tells the woman her mother is on the way. More conversation follows that is not picked up by the cameras. A couple of minutes later, one of the officers takes the woman by the arm and she protests, saying “I haven’t done anything.” One of the officers replies “no, no, you’ve made your f—-ing decision.” An officer picks up her bag and leads her away from the doors. The woman is screaming and resisting, according to the report.
The officers and the woman leave the camera’s view but a minute later the woman can be heard screaming wordlessly.
Two minutes after that, the female officer is seen wheeling a restraint chair through the lobby doors.
The woman is brought into the detachment, sobbing and shouting angrily. Two paramedics arrive approximately 20 minutes later.
The woman told IIO investigators she has little memory of what happened after being injured due to the pain making “everything a blur.” Video from inside the detachment shows the woman sitting in a wheelchair, talking with several officers while being told she is under arrest for fraud and being intoxicated in a public place.
The woman can be heard complaining and saying “of course I dropped my weight.”
After paramedics arrived she was taken to hospital, where she was diagnosed with a spiral fracture in her left humerus bone – an injury commonly caused by a twisting action.
The decision finds the officers were lawfully entitled to take the woman into custody and move her inside the building. It also calls into questions the woman’s account of events, given the video evidence, and notes “the officers’ use of force in these circumstances was both authorized, necessary and proportionate. Had [the woman] accompanied them without resistance the evidence suggests no injury would have occurred.”