Some Whitehorse residents are concerned the RCMP may have used excessive force in an incident at a downtown restaurant on Wednesday evening.
Shortly after 7 p.m., Whitehorse RCMP responded to a request for assistance from Emergency Medical Services involving a man at the BBQ King restaurant off Third Avenue near Ogilvie Street.
Local resident Jordyn Carpenter was there with family members. She said the man was intoxicated and sleeping at a booth when they arrived.
She told the Star Thursday that the male and female RCMP officers on the scene appeared to recognize the man, as they referred to him by name.
“That (male) cop twisted the guy’s arm behind his back and started trying to restrain him,” she said.
“The man was drunk, obviously, and sleeping, and he just woke up to that and freaked out and was trying to fight back and defend himself,” Carpenter said.
“He just woke up, so I don’t think he knew what was going on. I think he was scared, and after they started hurting him; he was trying to defend himself.”
She caught two short video clips from across the restaurant of the RCMP restraining the man which have been shared with the Star.
The first video, 10 seconds long, shows the man trying to stand and get past the officers as they flank him.
The male officer can be heard saying, “Don’t fight, Richard” as the trio struggles and the man falls back on the booth with the male officer behind him.
“The male cop had to, like, climb out from underneath, and the female cop was holding the other guy’s hand telling him to stop resisting, but I think he was just trying to get up and try to get them to stop twisting his wrist,” said Carpenter.
She said she decided to film the incident out of her concern for the safety of the man involved.
“If you know you’re being filmed, then you’re not going to do things that you know you’re not supposed to do,” she said.
“I’ve seen people be arrested by cops and I’ve seen them get hurt and there’s witnesses, but you can’t prove that a cop did something because if they say they didn’t, you’re not going to believe the other person.”
Between recordings, Carpenter said the male officer punched the man “a couple of times,” but she was not able to capture that, as they were obscured from view behind a table.
When they moved back into view, she recorded the second video, a 12-second clip that has been causing concern among some who have viewed it.
The man and two officers are shown struggling on the floor as he yells, “Hey! Don’t grab my (inaudible) please!”
While the female officer has a hand on the man’s shoulder and head, the male officer is over top of him holding his hand.
The officer uses his free hand to land a hard punch squarely on the man’s head. He then pulls the man’s hand behind his back.
Carpenter can be heard saying, “Oh! Don’t punch him, holy!” at which point a paramedic steps into the frame, holds up her hand and says, “Hey guys, can we not take videos?”
The recording stops, and Carpenter says the officers then removed the man from the restaurant.
“After that, he kind of seemed a little dazed because the cop had punched him a couple of times and he was a little out of it, so they could actually get him out of the restaurant,” she said.
Yukon RCMP said in a press release issued late this morning that they have been provided the video and that no injuries were reported to either the man nor responding police officers.
The 12-second clip has been circulating on Facebook, and was shared 160 times with more than 50 comments on the original post.
Carpenter said she is glad the video is being shared, and hopes it will raise awareness about concerns over police use of force.
“I think just having the video shown and showing that police do kind of take it further than necessary and continuing to show and prove that might help,” she said.
Many of the video comments express shock, and say that the punch was unnecessary.
But several noted the video only shows a portion of the incident, and a handful say the man was resisting and the use of force wasn’t excessive.
Carpenter said she feels the punches weren’t necessary.
“I think just because that guy fell on top of the cop and he was a bigger man, the cop had gotten scared and thought it was necessary to punch him,” she said.
“But I don’t think that man was trying to hurt that cop; he wasn’t trying to swing at him, he was just yelling.
“He was like, ‘Please let go of my wrist, please.’ And you could hear him saying, ‘I can’t move my arm. I can’t get my arm behind my back.’”
She added she thinks the officers could have handled the incident better.
“I think if they would’ve woken him up differently or approached the situation from the beginning in a different manner, then they wouldn’t have had to do that,” she said.
“He was just looking for somewhere warm to sleep and they just woke him up, and I would be terrified if I got woken up like that.”
Carpenter was left shaken after witnessing the incident, but is thankful that her daughter slept through it.
“I think she would’ve been terrified if she was awake,” she said.
“After that happened, I didn’t even want to eat there; I just felt sick; that was really disturbing to watch.”
Police say the 31-year-old local man appeared in territorial court Thursday to face charges of uttering threats, failing to comply with a probation order, theft under $5,000, mischief, and assaulting a police officer.
He has been remanded in custody pending his next court appearance on April 5.
Insp. Archie Thompson, the officer in charge of the RCMP Whitehorse detachment, is asking any witnesses, bystanders, or anyone with additional video who have not already spoken to police, to contact the RCMP at 667-5555.