First Nations leaders and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association want the RCMP to release an unedited police video of a man who died in custody in 2003 after being stunned with a Taser while being hog-tied and dragged face-down into the Prince George detachment.
They are also drawing a connection between the death of the man, 33-year-old Clay Alvin Willey, and the destruction of video evidence in another later Taser case that also involved two officers who were present in the Willey case.
In the second case, a provincial court judge threw out assault charges in 2005 against a man who claimed he was “tortured” by being hit with Tasers up to 50 times. A physician testified he found at least 23 burn marks on the man’s body. The judge criticized police for destroying the video evidence, saying the officer involved “acted in a most unreasonable and unprofessional manner.”
In neither case were the police officers involved disciplined, although RCMP spokesman Sergeant Tim Shields said Monday an internal review of the second case is still under way “and you will be hearing more about this shortly.”
Edited versions of the detachment and booking video from the Willey case have been shown to his family, the BCCLA and several First Nations leaders, but all of them say they believe more complete videos exist showing Willey being dragged out of a Suburban police vehicle on to his face. David Eby, the executive director of the BCCLA, said he saw at three edited versions and wants the original tape released.
Willey, of Metis origin, was arrested at a Prince George strip mall on July 21, 2003 for causing a disturbance. High on cocaine, he put up a fierce resistance when several police officers tried to arrest him. According to a 2004 coroner’s inquest, Constable John Graham pepper-sprayed and hog-tied Willey with a rope connecting his shackled feet and manacled hands. Willey was also Tasered at least three times after two officers, Constables Glenn Caston and Kevin O’Donnel, dragged him from the vehicle after it reached the lockup. Within 20 minutes of being arrested, he was so ill that police called paramedics. While in transport to the hospital he went into cardiac arrest and died the following morning. The coroner’s inquest found he died of a cocaine overdose.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, the president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, who watched the video, said seeing a bound man assaulted and Tasered left him “greatly disturbed”.
“I can tell you it was sickening. It was very very difficult to watch and it stirred a deep anger within myself,” he said
He drew a parallel between Willey’s death and that of Robert Dziekanski, the man who died at Vancouver International Airport in October 2007 after he was Tasered five times by RCMP officers. He didn’t understand why the public has not been as outraged about the deaths of aboriginal men at the hands of officers wielding Tasers.
Shields said the police are refusing to release the Willey video “at this time” because they do not believe it is in the public’s interest. He said the police want to respect the privacy of the dead man, his family and that of the police officers involved, and do not want to see copies of it circulating on the Internet “without context.”
Shields said the RCMP will show the entire video to the Willey family on Nov. 30. He said the raw video, captured on an old VHS “multiplex” system, shows a rotation of camera shots as the recording system cycled through station cameras. It does not show continuous streaming of every camera. A new system that digitally records streams from each of the station’s 56 cameras was installed several years ago, he said.
“This is the full video and there is not one second of footage involving Mr. Willey that was not omitted from that video,” he said.
But Bryna Willey said the family viewed a video prior to the coroner’s inquest in 2004 that shows her brother’s head hitting the ground when Caston and O’Donnel dragged him out of the vehicle. “It was very disturbing to watch that,” she said. “We have never forgotten or forgiven what happened to Clay.”
She said her mother Gloria had signed a notarized statement asking for the video to be made public. “We don’t accept the police version of events.”
Shields said that while an RCMP review concluded the officers did not violate procedures in place at the time, such behaviour would not be permissible now because officers are not allowed to hog-tie suspects and they cannot Taser them without the belief they pose a significant danger to others.
Eby said the video raises troubling questions and reinforces the belief that police should not investigate themselves.
He noted that two of the officers central to the Willey case were also involved in the case in 2005 when Justice Michael Brecknell threw out charges of assaulting police officers against a man who had been arrested for assaulting a daughter.
The man’s name has never been made public to protect his daughter, but in his ruling Brecknell broadly castigated an officer, Constable Andrew Brown, for failing to preserve and provide video evidence of the man’s treatment at the detachment. Brown, along with Caston and Graham, were present when the man was Tasered during a struggle while being arrested at his home.
The man testified he was subjected to assaults in the police vehicle and at the detachment and that he was hit with Tasers up to 50 times. A doctor testified at the trial that he found 23 burn marks all over the man’s body. But with no video evidence to show either side of the story, the judge threw out charges that the man had assaulted Caston and Graham and resisted arrest.
He gave the man a suspended sentence of one year for the assault on his daughter.
Community demands release of videotape of in-custody death
Representatives of a leading aboriginal and civil society group, along with a forensic pathologist and a journalist gathered yesterday to demand the release of security footage taken in an RCMP lockup that shows the Taser-related death of Clayton Alvin Willey, an aboriginal man.
Willey was arrested in 2003 for creating a public disturbance in Prince George, British Columbia, and died that same day following his interaction with police with a head injury and multiple broken ribs. RCMP officials acknowledge he was repeatedly Tasered while hog tied at the Prince George RCMP detachment.
Security camera footage from the jail of the incident was edited by the RCMP, and the RCMP retains a copy of the edited footage. Representatives of the UBCIC and BCCLA, along with Dr. John Butt and Leonard Cler-Cunningham, the independent journalist who uncovered the existence of the video, have viewed the edited footage.
“Even the edited footage shows Mr. Willey hog tied and being dragged around the Prince George RCMP detachment and being Tasered while lying helpless on his stomach,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of Union of BC Indian Chiefs. “If you treated any animal the way Mr. Willey was treated, there is little doubt that you would be facing criminal cruelty charges. Astonishingly, the officers involved here are still on active duty.”
The original footage may be lost, or may be in the custody of the RCMP or Coroner’s Office. Both offices have refused to release the edited or the full video to the public citing privacy concerns, despite receiving a notarized release from Clayton Willey’s family.
Who was involved in this incident?
In January, 2009, two of the RCMP officers involved in the Willey case were found by Provincial Court Judge Micheal Brecknell to have taken deliberate steps to ensure the loss of Prince George detachment videotape of another Taser abuse allegation. RCMP will not confirm whether those officers are still on active duty, but media reports indicate that investigative action was taken by the RCMP into that finding.
What is the content of the video?
- There are no date or time codes in the edited videotape.
- The video shows an RCMP SUV arriving at the Prince George Detachment garage.
- The video cuts away before RCMP say Clayton is pulled, hog tied, from the back seat of the SUV and allowed to drop, full weight, on his chest and possibly on his face.
- Clayton is then dragged down a hallway, with his hands bound behind his back and tethered to his feet, into an elevator. His head hits the doorway on his way into the elevator and he does not register any response.
- In the elevator, an RCMP officer can be seen targeting his Taser on Clayton’s back and kneeling down and applying the device to Clayton’s back.
- Clayton is then dragged out of the elevator into the booking area of the detachment. A number of RCMP officers, including senior officers are seen observing while the two male officers handling Mr. Willey Taser him at least twice more.
- Mr. Willey appears to lose consciousness, and an ambulance attends the scene.
- The RCMP advise that ambulance attendants ask the officers present to loosen Mr. Willey’s handcuffs because his hands are “black”. The video shows officers loosening his handcuffs.
- Still hog tied, Mr. Willey is loaded onto the stretcher, wrapped in blankets, and taken to the local hospital.
- He has a massive heart attack en route to the hospital and dies, which is not shown on the video.
What is the video?
The video reviewed by the representatives at the press conference is an edited compilation of the surveillance videotape taken at the RCMP Prince George detachment. It, and possibly the full, unedited footage, is in the possession of the RCMP and the B.C. Coroners Service.
What were the consequences of these actions?
The RCMP investigation found that all interactions with Mr. Willey were “routine” and there was no discipline as a result.