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Monday, May 26, 2008

Toronto police used excessive force with taser, says Judge

May 26, 2008
Shannon Kari, National Post

A provincial court judge has concluded that Toronto police used excessive force when a suspect inside his SUV was hit in the back with a Taser, allegedly after he was resisting arrest during a late night stop in the city's entertainment district in February 2006.

"I believe that there were other options available before the firing of the 50,000 volt charge," said Justice William Bassel, in a decision read out in court Monday.

The judge was also critical of the conduct of police after Irshad Ahmed was hit with the Taser.

The suspect was pulled out of his vehicle, which had the front side windows smashed by police and then thrown face down on to broken glass where he was handcuffed. Unidentified officers taunted Mr. Ahmed as he lay on the ground.

"I am mystified as to why Mr. Ahmed would be placed right in the middle of all of this broken glass," said the judge. "There were many officers there to have control of him. There was no evidence of flight risk at that point, and in my view putting him there was not only bad judgment, but it was also unreasonable," said Judge Bassel.

Mr. Ahmed and his passenger Omar Betty were pulled over a few blocks from where they allegedly refused a demand by bicycle officers investigating an assault, to stop their SUV and speak to police.

A number of Toronto police officers testified earlier this year that the two men refused to comply with demands to get out of their vehicle and that Mr. Betty was taunting the officers.

Windows on the driver and passenger side of the car were smashed by police. Mr. Betty left the vehicle and was arrested after Sgt. Peter Troup pointed his Taser at the man.

Sgt. Troup then fired the Taser and hit Mr. Ahmed in the back, because he was allegedly holding on to his seatbelt and trying to avoid being pulled out of the driver's side of the vehicle by other officers.

"I believe that the Taser's implementation at that point was premature and excessive," said Judge Bassel, who noted that the SUV was boxed in by police, there were several officers present and there was no warning before the weapon was discharged.

Police were unaware that part of the incident was recorded when Mr. Ahmed placed a call to his lawyer's voice mail.

"I'll break your f---ing ponytail. Yeah, you're right. You lost. Don't f-k with us," officers are head saying as Mr. Ahmed is on the ground.

Seven officers denied making the threats or hearing them uttered, when they testified in court.

The threats were "not only offensive, but they were completely inappropriate and their existence is further aggravated by the stonewall evidence by the officers that they did not hear them or utter them," said Judge Bassel.

The Charter rights of Mr. Betty were not violated, the judge concluded, so he must stand trial on charges of failing to comply with bail conditions and obstructing police.

The judge dropped one charge of violating a bail condition, against Mr. Ahmed. He must stand trial however, on a failure to stop and an obstruct police charge that related to events that occurred before his rights were violated, the judge said.

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