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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Boxer says he was beaten - BELLEVILLE POLICE: Have much different version of Shawn O'Sullivan's story

January 19, 2010

Retired boxing champion Shawn O'Sullivan says Belleville Police beat and Tasered him before charging him for assault and mischief.

"This is totally wrong. This is totally unjustified. It's obscene what they did," Sullivan, 47, told The Intelligencer Monday.

Police, however, said the former boxer was drunk, combative and resisted arrest.

The allegations of both O'Sullivan and police stem from a Nov. 28, 2009 incident behind a Coleman Street address.

The former Olympic medallist has made several public appeals for the return of 10 or more rings, including his two world championship rings, stolen during a May 12, 2007 break-in to his home.

O'Sullivan said Monday he'd been following a lead on the rings' location last November. While on the way home from a bar, he said, he spotted a man with whom he had earlier been talking about his rings.

The former boxer said the man's house was on the next street from where the boxer stood, so he walked into the backyard.

"It's dark now," he recalled thinking. "I didn't want to scare him. I said, 'Yo, bro!' just to get his attention."

But as soon as the man rose, O'Sullivan said, the man's body language seemed to indicate he was angry.

"Next thing I see him ... running at me," he said. "I thought, 'Aw, no. He's going to punch me.' Sure shootin' -- he punches me on the right eye." O'Sullivan said he returned the punch and the man ran inside to phone police. Two police officers soon arrived.

"I had my hands up, more or less (saying), 'Hey boys, how's your night?' at which they don't respond," said O'Sullivan. Instead, he said, the officers twisted his arms behind his back, holding his wrists above his shoulder blades and threw him to the ground. "They held me down and start stomping on the backs of my thighs and my calves," he said, adding one officer then grabbed the hair at the back of his head, then slammed his forehead onto a wooden post.

He said the officers by that point had yet to speak to him, and though he hadn't resisted, O'Sullivan said he was eventually told to "stop resisting." O'Sullivan said one officer held him upright while another stepped in front of him while holding a Taser-like device. "I said, 'Why are you doing this? What's going on here?'" he said. The weapon appeared to misfire on the first try. O'Sullivan said its prongs lodged in his shirt but no real shock followed. The officer collected the prongs, stepped back, reloaded and fired again, according to O'Sullivan.

As the weapon shocked him, O'Sullivan said, he thought of Robert Dziekanski, who in 2007 died after being shocked repeatedly with a similar device wielded by Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers in Vancouver.

"The Taser was sending electric shocks through me. You saw Dziekanski. I didn't want to give these little bastards the benefit of seeing me like that," he said. "This Taser was not going to beat me. I was standing upright, tight as a board."

After being shocked he was placed in a headlock by a cop who "flips me over his back, and then they start stomping me again," O'Sullivan said.

He claimed his head was again hit against an object.

He said he still suffers from knee and joint pain as a result of the incident, though his facial injuries have healed.

The official police version of the encounter differs substantially from O'Sullivan's account. A police press release said officers responded to a disturbance reported at 8:06 p.m. "The victim reported he had been punched in the face by the suspect and the rear door had been damaged as a result of the suspect forcing his way into the residence," said the release, identifying the suspect as O'Sullivan and placing him at the rear of the home.

"Mr. O'Sullivan showed signs of intoxication and was in an agitated state," said the release. "When approached by police he refused to comply with their verbal commands and took a combative stance with police. "After further attempts to communicate with Mr. O'Sullivan the conducted-energy device was deployed," it said, adding that "throughout the arrest he was physically resistant."

Taser is a brand name for one conducted-energy device.

The release said the boxer was taken to the police station, where he was examined by Hastings- Quinte Emergency Medical Services staff, who told police no further medical treatment was required.

O'Sullivan was charged with assault and mischief and released pending a Feb. 11 court appearance.

Belleville Police Deputy Chief Paul VandeGraaf declined to discuss specifics of the case Monday. "There's a criminal investigation and it's before the courts, so we're really limited as to what we can talk about on that one," he said. "So any facts we release to you may jeopardize the court case."

"I can tell you that Shawn O'Sullivan's not put in an official complaint with us, but that's about all we can talk about," VandeGraaf added.

O'Sullivan said he will "of course" file an official complaint, but doesn't know the process. He said the report of his allegedly damaging the door and entering someone's home is "pure bunk."

He has said publicly that he suffers from brain damage caused by his boxing career; the injury results in slurred speech, memory problems and more.

O'Sullivan was also quick to note he had been drinking alcohol before the incident but wasn't out of control. "Was I drunk? Honest to God, I may have -- if there was a Breathalyzer -- blown over (the legal limit) to drive. But was I out of my mind inebriated? Never. I'm never going to wanna be seen outside in a drunken state. Because people will talk, and who the hell wants to hear stories of a drunken ex-fighter? I've got children -- I don't want to disgrace them."

O'Sullivan added he knew if he resisted police he'd only end up in deeper trouble.

He acknowledged he had dealt with police in the past but said he does not have a criminal record.

Asked why he didn't discuss the case until a Global News television interview Sunday, O'Sullivan said he didn't have an answer except that he was being asked questions and it seemed an appropriate time to mention the case.

But he again maintained his innocence.

"I don't want to fight with anyone anymore. I've had a lifetime of that."

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