On Wednesday, a man robbed a Vancouver sex shop of cash and merchandise. He then apparently tried to hijack a car, but the female driver escaped and called police, who located and arrested the suspect, a Ryan James Felton. He was handcuffed and set down on the curb while police apparently decided what to do with him (he was eventually transported to a local hospital and treated for a drug overdose, before being released and charged with robbery). While the police are talking, the man, clearly disoriented, is reeling from side to side. There seems to be some shouting between Mr. Felton and the officers. A plainclothes police officer then kicks Mr. Felton in the chest, knocking him over with a cry of pain. The other police officers standing around appear surprised, but do nothing.
In what’s become a familiar story, the incident came to light because it was caught on film. A producer for CBC Vancouver had his camera running and captured the moment when the officer kicked the handcuffed Mr. Felton. It needs to be made very clear that the suspect was entirely subdued — his hands were cuffed behind his back, he was sitting nearly naked on the ground, surrounded by five men, including at least one confirmed plainclothes officer and two uniformed officers. If one wanted to find a textbook definition of a suspect who was no longer a threat, Mr. Felton would be a fair place to start.
The Vancouver Police, when confronted by the video, promised immediate action. The officer seen kicking the suspect, who is unnamed but said to be a 10-year veteran of the force, has been removed from operational duties and an investigation into the incident has been launched. But Const. Lindsey Houghton, speaking on behalf of the force at a Thursday night press conference, cautioned the media and the public not to rush to judgment.
“The video is extremely brief — it’s only six seconds long,” he said. “It’s a very short snapshot of the entire incident. From the time the robbery took place to the time the man was taken to the hospital was several minutes in length, so six seconds is not a lot of time.”
No. By almost any standard, six seconds is not a lot of time. But exactly how long does it take a person to kick a helpless man? Less than six seconds.
The entire incident highlights yet again the profound disconnect between how the police would react to an incident committed against one of their own by a member of the public, and incident committed by one of their own against that very same public. Imagine, for instance, a CBC producer filming a verbal altercation between a police officer and a civilian, during which the civilian lashes out and strikes the officer.
That civilian would be immediately arrested and charged with whatever the Crown thought would stick. Assault, certainly. Resisting arrest, most likely. Other charges would be likely depending on the circumstances. And you can rest assured the other police officers standing around wouldn’t simply watch with surprise without taking any action. And it wouldn’t matter to the police, not one bit, that the video only showed six seconds of the incident. The civilian striking a police officer would be enough.
And rightfully so. Kicking or punching another person, when not under threat, is an attack. This isn’t hard. The fact that we are absent the context of the entire incident is irrelevant — the apparent crime was the blow itself, not everything before it, and therefore the blow is what needed be established. Six seconds is more than enough to establish that the suspect was handcuffed and on the ground when assaulted, or, in other words, was not a threat.
The Vancouver Police Department will of course conduct their investigation into the incident, as they must. It is highly probable that some action will be taken against the officer who struck Mr. Felton. But that will not be enough to address the bigger issue here. That several other police officers watched the entire incident without interfering, and that the Vancouver Police think the video doesn’t speak for itself, clearly shows the double standard that exists when crimes are allegedly committed by law enforcement officers. The rest of us would be blessed indeed to enjoy the benefit of that much doubt.