Public Values

Police grabbed "critical mass" cyclist in mid-ride

Witnesses say Geoffrey Bercarich was knocked off his bike, dragged away and beaten.

Toronto cyclist Geoffrey Bercarich was pulled off his bike and mauled by Toronto Paula Coutinho

[Derek Barickash was riding in a special critical mass of cyclists – 600 riders in a group – to take the media spotlight away from the property damage done to the city core the day before.]

To Toronto Police Chief William Blair and Whom It May Concern,

I am writing to express concern and dismay over the displays of police brutality during the arrest of a participant, Derek Barickash, in the June 27 "critical mass" bike ride, and over other shows of aggression which I encountered from many police officers throughout the ride.

I did not witness the beginning of the incident which occurred during the group bike ride, but I spoke to several witnesses who did. (Three of them shared names and contact information with me, and I can provide that information should you wish to contact them directly.) Their accounts of the incident are as follows:

As the group of cyclists was passing by 148 Cumberland Street, one of the cyclists was singled out by the police. He was descended upon by several bicycle police officers. He was forced or somehow removed from his bicycle. He was then held by his arms by two officers, one on each side as a third officer then punched him in the face. The cyclist was then pushed to the ground, where he was held face down.

Several officers (the witnesses were not sure how many, but thought it was 4-6) then repeatedly punched the cyclist in the legs. When the cyclist was stood up, he was punched in the genitals by one of the officers. He was then quickly removed to inside the parking garage where he was kept out of sight until shortly before his removal.

What I personally witnessed is as follows. I saw the cyclist later on, when he was brought near the front of the garage to await removal in a police vehicle. He had blood below his nostrils, on each side of his nose. He had blood under his chin and it looked like he had a cut or gash there. I asked him if he was okay, and he replied "no". I asked him if he needed medical help, and he said "yes". He then told me his name and spelled it for me. (I was not able to fully understand or remember what he told me and only later learned his full name from a lawyer who contacted me.)

When I asked him to repeat himself, an officer yelled at me to stop talking to the cyclist. Shortly after, I repeated his name aloud (as I remembered it), at which point the officer came over to me and very angrily and threateningly told me that I was to keep quiet and to leave the scene or I would be arrested for obstructing the police. I moved a couple of feet away and soon after, a different police officer came and took down my information and called it into headquarters to have me checked up on. My bag was searched and then I was free to leave.

I do not know why the cyclist was arrested by the police and none of the witnesses knew either. They did not witness any altercation preceding the arrest. One of them said it seemed that something was yelled at the cyclist by one of the police officers, at which point the cyclist veered off to the side from his original direction of travel. It was after this that he was surrounded by and descended upon by several officers.

I asked the witnesses if the cyclist seemed to resist arrest. They said no. One of them said that the cyclist "did not seem happy" and that although he was not compliant, neither did he resist. He was saying something to the police but not offering any physical resistance.

All of the witnesses I spoke to, of which there were six or seven, said that the force used was very excessive and far beyond what the situation called for. People all around who could see the incident were yelling at the police to stop. Some of the witnesses were very upset and even sickened by the violence that they witnessed.

They all said that the group bike ride itself seemed peaceful, with many of the cyclists calling out "peaceful protest" as they were riding down Cumberland Street. Two or three of the witnesses said that a couple of the officers who formed the blockade in front of the parking garage displayed a very high level of rage and seemed very antagonistic towards the group of cyclists in front of them. One of the officers held his bike over his head and waved it menacingly towards the people in front of him. Four or five of the officers held their bicycles up on the back wheels and pushed the front wheels into the group of cyclists to push them away.

The witnesses said, and what I myself witnessed as a participant in the ride was that there was little happening during the bike ride to provoke these and other forms of aggression from the bicycle police officers who accompanied the ride. Throughout the ride, we were simply riding our bikes and sometimes chanting slogans as we rode along.

One form of aggression I personally encountered during the bike ride were officers very aggressively telling me and other cyclists to "move on" or to "get going" a couple of the times we were stopped. At these times, I was either simply standing and watching what was going on around me or talking to people around me. There was nothing in my behavior to illicit such rudeness and aggression from the police officers.

It angers and saddens me to know that members of our police force, who are supposed to serve and protect us, have treated us so aggressively and even violently. Although it has not been all of the officers who have displayed such behavior (many of them were polite and friendly and helpful) there were a great many whom I and others encountered during the weekend who displayed unwarranted aggressive behavior.

Please respond to me in writing about the following issues:

a) Police accountability: Why was the arrested cyclist taken into the parking garage and held there in isolation and out of public view until shortly before his removal? What is the Toronto Police Service going to do to identify and reprimand the officers who punched and beat the arrested cyclist? How are officers dealt with who engage in such inappropriate conduct?

b) Rights of detained or arrested persons: Did the arrested cyclist receive the medical attention that he told me he needed and if not, why not? What legal recourse does he and others like him have who have been assaulted by police officers during their arrest or detainment?

c) Civil and political rights: In what way was I "obstructing the police" by talking to the arrested cyclist and by observing the proceedings, when neither my distance from the event nor my behavior interfered with any police activity? Why was I told to "get moving" when I was stopped and merely talking to people or quietly looking around me? Are both cases not a breach of civil and political rights?

d) Police aggression and violence: Why was so much force used to arrest someone who was offering no physical resistance? Why were peaceful protesters such as myself treated with such aggression and hostility? What can be done from now on to prevent unnecessary aggression from our police force towards us, the public it is meant to serve and protect?

Please contact me if you have any questions or would like to open a discussion about the incident or about the issues raised. Meanwhile, I look forward to receiving answers to my questions in a timely fashion.

Thank you,
Paula Coutinho

Copies of this letter are being sent to the Honourables Stephen Harper, Jack Layton, and Michael Ignatieff, the Mayor of Toronto, Toronto Police Services Professional Standards and Training & Education, members of the Provincial and Federal Parliaments, Toronto councilors, the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, the Canadian Civil Liberties Union, various other political activists and organizations, and members of the press.

Links and sources
  First-person blog account of the incident by Geoffrey Bercarich

Posted: June 30, 2010


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