Group says man didn't grab gun during VPD arrest
The video on YouTube shows two Vancouver police officers exiting their cruiser at a street corner, approaching a man and just seconds later repeatedly kneeing him while holding his arms.
Two days after the June 26 incident, the Vancouver Police Department issued a news release saying the homeless Sudanese man began to "actively resist arrest and fight" and "continually tried to disarm one of the officers by trying to pull the officer's gun out of its holster."
However, before the struggle moves out of camera range, the video shows 47-year-old Eltah Ishtag's hands are well away from the gun belts of any of the officers.
BC Civil Liberties Association president Robert Holmes said Wednesday that police need to provide an explanation for why the "misleading" news release was issued.
"They indicated that he started the thing and the video doesn't bear that out," Holmes said about the surveillance footage provided by Megaphone Magazine, which has an office just steps from the scene on the city's Downtown Eastside.
Ishtag has been charged with obstructing a peace officer, assaulting a peace officer with intent to resist arrest and disarming a peace officer.
"The suggestion was that after they kneed him a few times he should have just laid back and taken whatever they were (doling) out to him," Holmes said, adding that if Ishtag tried to push the officers away it was to defend himself while he was being attacked.
Vancouver police spokesman Const. Lindsay Houghton said he can't comment on the matter because it's before the courts.
"Unfortunately, by releasing the video, that could infringe on Mr. Ishtag's right to a fair trial," he said.
"Now how could that be so?" Holmes said. "The whole idea that the public should be kept away from information just seems to us preposterous, especially when they felt perfectly free to issue a news release saying what their story was."
Holmes said he has sent a letter to Mayor Gregor Robertson, head of the Vancouver Police Board, asking him to explain why the department issued information that puts a "favourable gloss on events."
He said the incident mirrors that of others when police have provided information that doesn't match up with video evidence, such as in the case of Robert Dziekanski, who died at Vancouver's airport in 2007 after being jolted repeatedly by a Taser.
"The fact is that the police public affairs department should not aim at being a cheerleader for the police," Holmes said of the Vancouver Police Department. "It should aim at providing full, true and accurate information for the public because that's what we expect them to do."
The association is demanding release of all video footage held by police, an independent investigation of both the incident and the news release, plus an assurance that allegedly misleading details are not issued again.
The association lists three incidents this year in which Vancouver police statements have been retracted or contradicted, and Holmes said this case is disturbing because officers obtained the video but still released the allegations against Ishtag.
Vancouver police say the officers approached Ishtag because he was wanted on outstanding mischief and threatening warrants and was facing a charge of assaulting a peace officer in Calgary as a result of an incident in February 2009.