Editorial: Silence about safety officer punch until recently veers dangerously close to a cover-up

There are many elements of the video of 19-year-old Genesta Garson of Tataskweyak Cree Nation being punched out by a community safety officer in January 2018 while in the Thompson RCMP detachment cell block that are disturbing.

First of all there’s the punch that was delivered to the woman, who was being detained on the suspicion of public intoxication and was required to remove several clothing items, including her bra and her belt, before being placed in a holding cell and being left to sober up. The surveillance video from the RCMP detachment appears to show Garson hitting a community safety officer with her belt or throwing it at him just before he punches her, which caused her to hit her head against a wall, fall to the floor and lose consciousness for 10 seconds, according to medical reports. Although police and other peace officers are granted greater latitude in the use of force during the course of their duties than regular civilians, many people would say that the reaction to Garson’s action isn’t commensurate with the danger she posed and that, rather than an act of self-defence, it appeared to be, instead, one of retaliation.

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The next part of the video, which shows a female RCMP officer pulling off Garson’s pants (she was wearing more pants underneath those) and helping the community safety officers drag the woman to a holding cell, where they pushed her down to the floor again when she tried to come out after them before they closed the door, also raises the question of whether they were following their training. Presumably, after using enough force on someone to render them briefly unconscious, the first priority should be to check that they are not seriously injured and, if they are able to move of their own volition, assist them in getting up and then escorting them to the holding cell. Garson did receive medical attention, but not until paramedics arrived about 15 minutes later and then took her to the hospital.

The video also shows the officer who punched Garson re-enacting his swing after she was deposited in the holding cell. If he had any remorse about the incident, it wasn’t visible in his actions at that time.

But perhaps more disturbing than what the video shows is the fact that neither the officer who punched Garson nor his partner, nor the RCMP officer who was assisting them, or any other RCMP employees in the cell block at that time, or the paramedics who treated Garson, ever gave any thought to whether perhaps the City of Thompson, which employs the community safety officers and could be held liable for their actions in court (Garson has filed a lawsuit against the city and the RCMP as well as the individual officers and the attorney general of Canada) should be informed that one of them had punched a person being detained for being intoxicated in the face and injuring them in the process. It is also disturbing that the city didn’t have a process under which it should be notified of its own staff using force on people until it found out about this one, seven months after the fact. It seems like it might have been the type of thing that might have come up during a monthly public safety committee meeting, in which the Thompson RCMP commanding officer usually takes part, or the weekly meetings with the mayor that they take part in too. At the time, however, it appears that some sort of informal don’t ask, don’t tell policy may have been in place.

Whether the treatment Garson received was justified – an RCMP review of the incident did not find reason for charges to be laid against the safety officer who punched Garson – or worthy of a complaint – RCMP officers apparently convinced her to drop a formal complaint against the force after several visits to her home in Split Lake – might depend on who you ask. But greater transparency from both the city and the RCMP, rather than reactive press releases when the incident came to light, nearly three years after occurring, should have been part of their response to it. Then again, had the person at the centre of the incident never decided to file a lawsuit, it might never have come to light. Has anything bad ever resulted from an organization keeping quiet about unflattering and potentially illegal acts by its members and employees before? Ask the Catholic Church, Fox News and Hollywood movie studios, among others.

© Copyright Thompson Citizen

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