Thursday, November 18, 2010
Ottawa Police horror [updated]
It could have been Mississippi, ca. 1950.
A woman of colour, returning home after a party. A false arrest, a sadistic police sergeant, a trumped-up charge, a prosecutor attempting to jail the victim.
But this is Ottawa, 2010. A judge called a halt to what he rightly called a "travesty." He couldn't ignore the videotape that showed a sustained assault on an unresisting prisoner by police officers, and the sexual and emotional humiliation of their victim.
Stacy Bonds, a 27-year old theatrical makeup artist, was simply walking on the street. As reported, she was stopped by Ottawa police for no reason, and held until she was run through the police computer. She was then told to proceed on her way.
But this uppity woman didn't know her place. She turned and asked them why they had stopped her.
She was immediately arrested for "public intoxication," although the judge found this an unlawful act because she was nowhere close to being drunk. She was handcuffed, thrown into the back of a police cruiser, and taken to the police station.
What then happened was recorded by a videocamera in the station. Showing no signs of resistance, Bonds was viciously kneed in the back, her hair yanked, and a hand thrust into her pants. The arresting officer, Const. John Flores, didn't once let go of her.
Bonds was then thrown to the floor with the use of a riot shield. Her shirt and bra were cut off by Sgt. Steve Desjourdy, and she was strip-searched in the presence of several male officers. She was then left in a jail cell for three hours, half-naked, and ultimately charged with that old butt-saving favourite, "assault on police."
Desjourdy has been in trouble before, for kicking and Tasering a female prisoner a mere few days before this incident. For that he was given a three-month demotion to the rank of constable in 2009. Must have stung.
He claimed that his victim had "mule-kicked" a constable behind her, justifying his use of force. But the videotape showed no such thing.
The judge berated the officers for the strip search, calling it "an extremely serious breach of [Bonds'] rights, apart from it being unlawful." Her lawyer, Matt Webber, was less restrained: "It's an appalling example of abuse of power and misconduct on the part of the police. It's a complete disregard for her dignity. It's shocking."
What I find particularly interesting is the fact that the entire assault on Bonds was carried out under a police videocam, but the officers involved simply lied, as though no such record existed. Such is the culture of police impunity that they obviously imagined the system would save them no matter what.
The Crown's decision to proceed to a trial, once again proving the adage that police and prosecutors are stuck together with Krazy Glue, must have reassured them. But they all ran into a judge who didn't have a bandage over his eyes. He stayed the bogus charge against her, and went on a refreshing rant against her victimizers.
Police Chief Vern White has promised an "internal investigation." White does appear to be a cut above the usual police chief, regularly reaching out to the community and so forth, but that may simply indicate his mastery of effective public relations. In this case, he hedges: "If the judge's ruling is indicative of what happened, it's appalling."
If? Roll that video for the chief, please.
We'll see what comes of this investigation, which could take months. Meanwhile, I assume that the officers involved are still on the job, serving and protecting.
For her part, Bonds says she is thinking of suing. Thinking? Here's one observer who would be willing to part with some cash to get that process started. Outside her acquittal, a lawsuit may provide the only justice she ever receives.
UPDATE: My sometime editor at the National Post, Kelly McParland, weighs in. The message? Fire. Them. All.
UPPERDATE: (November 18) Vern White's halfway measures:
Ottawa Police Sgt. Steve Desjourdy, the officer caught on videotape cutting a young female prisoner's shirt and bra off with a pair of scissors, will be forbidden from dealing with the public until the conclusion of an internal police investigation.
What does this tell us? Far from firing this thug, or at the very least suspending him without pay until the conclusion of his two-years-late "internal investigation," Chief White will retain him on the force at full salary. And the other officers involved in a gang assault on a 100-pound Black woman are still out there "dealing with the public."
Not a good start, Chief.