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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

RCMP urged to release arrest tape of man who died

November 17, 2009
Mark Hume, Globe and Mail

Clayton Alvin Willey died of a heart attack several hours after police knocked him to the ground, hog-tied him, kicked him in the chest, pepper sprayed him and used a taser on him repeatedly.

Although the incident took place in 2003 and the arresting officers were cleared of any wrongdoing, an aboriginal leader and civil rights critics called yesterday for the release of an RCMP video they say shows police used excessive force.

“I had an opportunity to see an edited version of the video and I can tell you it was sickening, it was very, very difficult to watch and it stirred a deep anger within myself,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, said at a news conference.

Mr. Phillip said the video shows Mr. Willey, a M├ętis, with his hands cuffed behind his back and tied to his feet, being dragged into the police station while RCMP officers repeatedly taser him.

“I was very disturbed, very emotional … in many ways it was worse than watching the Dziekanski tape,” he said, referring to a video shot at Vancouver International Airport in 2007, when RCMP officers used a taser on Robert Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant who died while being arrested after making a disturbance in the arrivals area.

The Dziekanski video generated worldwide media coverage and led to a public inquiry that recommended police adopt tougher rules on the use of tasers.

“The point of this press conference is to draw public attention to this horrific incident,” said Mr. Phillip, who hopes to trigger an “outcry across this country similar to the Dziekanski case.”

David Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, and John Butt, a forensic pathologist, echoed Mr. Phillip's views, and said there will be public anger if people get to see the video.

The video was entered in evidence in an October, 2004, coroner's inquest, which did not find fault with the police officers. The video was brought to the attention of Mr. Phillip recently by Leonard Cler-Cunningham, a writer researching aboriginal deaths in custody.

Mr. Cler-Cunningham said Mr. Willey's family has signed an authorization asking the RCMP to release the video, but the police have declined to do so.

“The reason the RCMP in Ottawa refused to release it is because it would be a violation of Clay Willey's right to personal privacy. I've encountered this in every single aboriginal death in custody under investigation. It's insulting. It's disgusting. Do not use an individual's right to personal privacy to shield yourself from investigation,” he said, directing his comments to police.

Mr. Cler-Cunningham said Mr. Willey was treated brutally.

“I believe it meets the standard of torture,” he said. “Do you need to taser a man who is handcuffed and hog-tied, seemingly immobile and prone?”

RCMP Sergeant Tim Shields said the video is not being released because of privacy concerns, but he said police are “more than happy to share all file details with the family and first nations leaders.” The RCMP could not be reached later for comment on Mr. Cler-Cunningham's remarks.

The findings of the coroner's inquest state that several people made 911 calls to the RCMP in Prince George in July, 2003, after frightening encounters with Mr. Willey, who was reportedly armed with a knife.

The coroner's report states that when police confronted Mr. Willey, he refused to lie on the ground and, with blood and foam coming from his mouth, advanced on a female officer.

One officer drew his handgun, but put it away when he saw Mr. Willey was not armed. Police tackled Mr. Willey and one officer kicked him “in an attempt to gain ‘pain compliance.'”

Police testified they also used pepper spray and that even after he was hog-tied, Mr. Willey “continued to thrash around and attempt to free himself.”

Police said they used tasers at the cellblock in an attempt to subdue Mr. Willey.

A pathologist's report found evidence of two apparent taser burns, numerous abrasions, contusions, six broken ribs and brain swelling from a head injury.

The pathologist, D.J. McNaughton, testified that Mr. Willey died of a heart attack brought on by a cocaine overdose and said that “in his opinion the use of the taser did not contribute to Mr. Willey's death.”

Mr. Willey was arrested at about 5:15 p.m. Police called an ambulance at 5:36, after he was “touch stunned” by a taser at the jail cell. He had a heart attack in the ambulance, and was pronounced dead the next morning at 9:05.

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