VANCOUVER — The lawyer representing the 26-year-old man allegedly assaulted by a Vancouver police officer released film footage of the incident Wednesday, asking why it took four months for charges to be laid when the evidence is so clearcut.
Jason Tarnow said his client agreed to the release of the footage because he felt the incident, which occurred at about 2:15 a.m. on Aug. 23 in the 2200-block of West Broadway, had been misrepresented at a police press conference this week.
At the conference, police announced that a sergeant had been charged with assault with a weapon after a man was allegedly assaulted and knocked to the ground.
Police said the incident occurred as they responded to a 911 call about a fight in progress. During the incident, the sergeant called for “Code 3 emergency cover” and more officers arrived to assist.
Grainy footage of the incident, caught by a closed-circuit television camera from a nearby business, shows his client wasn’t the only person assaulted, Tarnow said.
The footage, viewed by The Sun, shows an officer running toward a man Tarnow says is his client and striking him with his baton, causing him to fall to the ground. After that, the officer pushes a second man in the chest and swings his baton at a third man on a bike.
“You see clearly [in the video] the officer runs across the street full board and cross checks him [Tarnow’s client] in the face with his police baton. My client has his hand in his pocket and the other one on his cellphone. He goes flying. The officer then pushes another individual in the chest then he swings at another guy who lifts up his bike and uses it like a shield to protect himself,” said Tarnow.
“Really he assaulted three people. It’s pretty crazy.”
Tarnow said his client filed a formal complaint with the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner on Sept. 21 and made a formal complaint with the Vancouver Police Department as well.
He said both police and Crown counsel would have received the film footage around that time because he had prepared “identical packages for them with the intention of it prompting action.”
“If you or I had a stick in our face by anyone other than an officer it would result in charges instantly. It’s the boys protecting themselves,” said Tarnow.
Crown counsel spokesman Neil MacKenzie said the Crown didn’t receive the file from police until Dec. 16 and completed its charge assessment before the end of December. He said this is consistent with the normal time it takes to complete assessments of most files, which is 15 days.
“We completed our review in a relatively short time,” said MacKenzie.
He said only one complainant has come forward. Crown concluded there wasn’t sufficient evidence to support charges in relation to the two other men in the video.
Vancouver police spokeswoman Const. Jana McGuinness said police follow the same procedures for a criminal investigation whether the person is an officer or not and this file was not treated any differently.
“Everything proceeded as a normal investigation,” said McGuinness.
Tarnow said he thinks the public needs to see what really happened.
“The police presser really downplayed it and said their police officer was responding to a Code 3 fight.
That wasn’t the case at all. It was a very peaceful environment, he said, adding more charges should be laid.
He said although it’s not caught on film, his client told him that the officer, acting alone, pulled his cruiser up on the sidewalk and was using the bumper to “intimidate the crowd” to make them disperse after leaving a bar.
He said that according to his client, people were leaving in an orderly fashion after the bar had closed and there were no fights or anyone verbally abusing the officer. The tape, which starts at 2 a.m. and goes for half an hour, also shows no evidence of a fight.
“My client is the last guy in the world to antagonize an officer. He’s professionally employed, small in stature and soft-spoken. He was out with friends at the time and they just came out of a bar and were strolling down the street when this happened,” said Tarnow.
He said the incident came to an end after other officers arrived on the scene.
Sgt. Darcy Taylor is charged with one of assault with a weapon.
Dec. 1, 2010 update from bcpolicecomplaints.org: Taylor was convicted, but of a reduced charge of simple assault instead of assault with a weapon. Crown attorney Jay Fogel chose not to call witnesses and presented a “watered-down version” of Taylor’s violence against a young man who had done nothing wrong.
The Vancouver Province quotes the victim’s lawyer, Jason Tarnow: “On the surveillance video that I obtained, Sgt. [Darcy] Taylor clearly hits Justin [Wachtel] very hard with his baton. It’s outrageous he wasn’t convicted of assault with a weapon, as you or I would be if we’d done that.”
The victim added: “Why I, or the 18 other citizens who gave statements, were not called upon to testify is very troubling to me. A wealth of evidence was collected by the Crown, but it seems to me the majority of it was conveniently omitted.”
This case shows the problem of police accountability goes beyond biased investigations. Prosecutors are often cozy with the police and judges show greater leniency than they do with civilians.
Oh, by the way — this violent criminal will keep his job with the Vancouver Police Department.