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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Willey tape could become public

November 29, 2009
Rodney Venis, Prince George Citizen

The Willey family is waiting until a Dec. 11 meeting with RCMP to decide whether or not to release to the general public a video depicting the Tasering and dragging of a suspect at the Prince George detachment, their lawyer said Wednesday.

The video is currently in the middle of a string of recent developments related to the 2003 death of Clayton Willey, which includes the expansion of a police watchdog probe into allegations video evidence was tampered with and a National Post report that one of the officers involved, Corporal John Graham, had a history of violent confrontations with suspects (see related story.)

"We expect to see the video tape in total there," said Simon Wagstaffe, the Willey family's lawyer. "The family wish to see all the RCMP have before they decide on the question of general release."

In the meantime, the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP (CPC) continues to examine whether a surveillance video showing parts of the in-custody treatment of Willey was edited when it was screened for members of the media, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association after a freelance journalist submitted a freedom of information act request.

The groups claim the version they watched showed: an RCMP SUV arriving in the detachment garage; Willey being dragged down a hallway, hog-tied, with his hands bound behind his back and tethered to his feet; Willey’s head hitting the entrance to an elevator; a Taser targeting Willey’s back; Willey being dragged out of an elevator, into a booking area, where he’s Tasered at least twice more.

Willey had been arrested for causing a public disturbance at the Parkwood Place mall and died later in hospital. The coroner's inquest found he died of a cocaine overdose and officers testified Willey was in an violent, drug-induced haze.

But there was concern from David Eby of the BCCLA that there were no date or time codes on the video he was shown. Both he and Willey’s family also claimed there are missing incidents in the one screened recently, particularly a moment when Willey is dragged from the SUV by a ‘hobble’ - the rope of the hog tie - and his head hits a part of the vehicle and then the garage floor.

Eby saw a version of the tape after the FOI request this year; the Willey family viewed another version of tape before the coroner’s inquest in 2004.

The inquest jury and Crown counsel at the time also saw the so-called raw footage of the Willey incident at the time; joining that group is Solicitor General Kash Heed, whose letter to CPC chair Paul Kennedy on Nov. 20 prompted the expanded probe.
"It's incumbent upon me to let Commissioner Kennedy do his work on his investigation," said Heed. "I'm not going to comment on the video because I've asked Mr. Kennedy to look at the aspect and determine what the course of action should be."

The CPC investigation was already examining the Willey case as part of wider look at all Taser-related in-custody deaths in Canada. On Monday, it was expanded to look at the video issue and whether subsequent RCMP investigation into Willey's death was adequate and free of actual or perceived conflict of interest.

B.C. RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Tim Shields, who's seen both versions of the Willey tape, said the Force welcomed an external, third-party look at the allegations of evidence tampering. "Nothing was removed from the tapes and they were not tampered with and, to insure that, full and complete disclosure was made to the coroner's inquest, Crown counsel and the Willey family."

A forensic video analyst will examine the Willey footage.

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