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Saturday, May 30, 2009

'I thought I was going to die': Beating victim

May 30, 2009

NEWMARKET -- Two young men who had never been in trouble with the law say they were beaten and Tasered as many as 24 times by York cops after innocently ending up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The two found themselves in the middle of a drug raid last fall after crashing in a buddy's Richmond Hill hotel room and were asleep when police entered the penthouse suite.

"I thought I was going to die," Brandon Talon, 23, said yesterday in an interview outside Newmarket court, explaining he is now living with physical and psychological scars from that fateful night.

Talon and Jonathan Fontela, 22, say they went to a nightclub on Sept. 5, 2008, to celebrate the birthday of an old high school chum, who -- unknown to them -- was under police surveillance for trafficking drugs from a room in the Sheraton Hotel at Hwy. 7 and Leslie St.

Early the next morning, after stopping for a bite to eat, the two longtime best friends claim they went back to the hotel and fell asleep in the suite rather than risk drinking and driving.


The drug dealer, who they say they hadn't seen in several years, and his girlfriend retired to the bedroom.

But their slumber came to a crashing end around 4:30 a.m. as Talon and Fontela awoke to find themselves surrounded by eight men -- four plainclothes officers and four Emergency Response Unit officers wearing ski masks and armed with assault rifles -- who they say began pummelling them and pulling them to the floor before they even had a chance to open their eyes.

"They came in like thugs," Fontela alleged of the officers, who obtained a key card from the hotel to enter the room.

Fontela says he initially thought he was having a bad dream and it took a few moments to realize the nightmare was real. "They were beating me so bad I barely remember what was happening," said Fontela, who alleges he was Tasered 13 times.

Talon, who said he was Tasered 11 times and beaten so bad the retina in his right eye was partially severed, believed it was some sort of home invasion.

"While I was being Tasered and grabbed in a choke hold, that's when I heard them saying, 'Stop resisting,' " he said.

It was only then, he said, that he realized the men were cops.

Talon, who weighs about 150 pounds and could easily pass for a high school student, said he "passed out" after suffering two hard blows to the head and doesn't remember much else.

His mother, Barb Talon, was surprised by the injuries when she was finally able to pick her son up from a jail in Lindsay two days later.

"He didn't even look like my son, his face was a mess," she said. She has since filed a complaint to York's public complaints bureau and hired a lawyer to launch a civil action against the officers.

Talon and Fontela were charged with possession of drugs for the purpose of trafficking and obstruction of justice. The pair, best friends since Grade 3, have not been allowed to associate with each other for the last eight months. Until recently, they were also under a 10 p.m. curfew.

When Talon and Fontela appeared yesterday in a Newmarket court, the drug charges were dropped and they agreed to face a judge on the obstruction charge. Despite their plea of not guilty, Justice Joseph Kenkele found them both guilty but granted them an absolute discharge, meaning they will not have a criminal record.


Talon's lawyer, Kingsley Graham, said the two men had just found themselves "in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"If there's a lesson to be learned here, it's pick your friends carefully," said Graham, who was also adamant the police use of force was "absolutely" out of line.

He also dispelled any speculation the two were high at the time, explaining a toxicology test showed neither had drugs in their system.

Chief Armand La Barge refused to comment on the allegations, which are still under investigation internally, but he stands by his officers.

"If (Talon and Fontela) had followed the officers' instructions ... there would have been no obstruct police (charges) and no need to resort to the use of force in this situation," he said.

Police said they found a "fairly substantial amount" of cocaine in the bedroom of the hotel suite -- 47 individually wrapped baggies with a street value of about $10,000, La Barge said.

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