A disabled, black, English-speaking man has laid complaints against two Laval police officers for violently arresting him without cause and erasing a video of the incident from his cellphone.
Pradel Content, 39, took a video of two Laval police officers who made a U-turn on Highway 15 to tail his car on May 14.
Content, who lived in Florida for 17 years, said he was going for his daily Tim Hortons run and was heading towards a gas station to buy cigarettes in his Cadillac Escalade. The officers followed Content when he stopped at a gas station. Content then stepped out of his car, his cane in one hand and his cellphone in the other to videotape the police driving towards him.
One of the officers, Constable Michael Boutin, then stepped out of the police car and slapped the phone out of Content’s hand, pushed him against the car and handcuffed him as Content protested that he was disabled and fragile, said Fo Niemi, executive director of Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations.
Content didn’t mince words when he spoke at a press conference Saturday at CRARR’s office.
“I want my life back, ” he said, seated between Niemi and his mother, Marie Rose Théodore. “Let me live.”
Since the incident, his mother said she has been accompanying Content in public. She became increasingly upset speaking about the current situation with her son.
“I’m tired of the way he’s treated,” she said in French. “He didn’t do anything. He can’t leave the house alone now. I need to go with him.”
“I want to be able to walk down the street, to walk down the street like everybody else,” Content said.
The organization has filed complaints on Content’s behalf with Quebec’s Police Ethics Commission and Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission in connection with the incident, alleging the officers used excessive force to arrest him and illegally erased footage of the incident.
“We hope this case will create a clear precedent and also a clear positive policy,” Niemi said.
Niemi said surveillance video confirms Content’s version of the incident by showing one officer slapping Content’s phone out of his hand and shoving him.
In the police report, Boutin confirms that police erased video from Content’s phone. Boutin reports that the officers began tailing Content after they noticed a fake Halloween-style hand coming out of the trunk of his car. Content said it was a Halloween prop that he has placed in his trunk year-long.
Content had to “be handcuffed and placed in the police car. He cries constantly that he is handicapped,” the police report says.
Content says he suffers from arthritis in the neck, fibromyalgia, lumbar and thoracic problems, issues in both knees and a broken rib. Aside from the broken rib, his injuries stem from a previous car accident.
“This is why I keep telling police officers you can’t push me and slam me like that,” he said. “You can’t slam me on the car and not think that I’m not going to feel that. Leave me alone, let me live, got that?”
Content said he was pushed into the police car without any regard for his disabilities. He said he was then told by officer Boutin that he was “handicapped in the head.” The officers gave Content a $127 ticket for using a cell phone while driving, which Content has contested.
Content realized the footage from his phone was gone after speaking with the gas station clerk, who asked Content about the incident. He wanted to show the clerk the video, which was no longer there. Initially panicked, Content asked the clerk if he could take a look at the surveillance footage at the gas station and was told to come back the next day when the clerk’s manager would be there.
This is not Content’s first run-in with the cops. In 2014, police officers falsely identified him as a black male suspect they had been searching for. He was arrested and detained before they realized they had the wrong person.
Content said he has been trying to track the number of times police have stopped him since June 2016 but has stopped since the incident this past May. However, he said in the past, he would be stopped three times in a five-day span.
Moving forward, Content said he simply wants to go back to a normal life.
“I want my voice to be heard, I want to be able to go out on the streets and live like a normal human being,” he said. “I mean like, this is not the first time, I know it’s not going to be the last time but I’m hoping it’s the last time.”
Earlier this year, two court rulings determined that police officers cannot legally erase video footage from people’s electronic devices. In Larochelle v. Sarno, the police ethics commission won an appeal overturning a decision initially stating that police officers didn’t have to face any disciplinary action after they forced a man to give them his phone and delete videos of the officers on duty. The commission ruled “the officers had no valid reason to detain the victim or use force. … As to the the demand to delete the pictures, the officers had no legal basis to ask for the deletion of the pictures.”
In Commissaire à la déontologie policière v. Ledoux, a man was stopped for making an illegal U-turn, which police said was clearly marked by a sign on the road. The man took a photo of the sign to see what it said. The case states the officers “request is to see the pictures in an aggressive manner and orders the photos to be deleted.” However, it was determined the police officers didn’t have the right to make that request because it violated the Quebec police ethics code.
On Wednesday, a Côte-des-Neiges man who was handcuffed and wrestled to the ground by Montreal police in a case of mistaken identity says he was angry that his complaint to the Quebec police ethics commission had been dismissed.
Errol Burke, a 54-year-old illustrator, said he entered a dépanneur to buy milk last February when police officers threw him to the ground, pointed their pistols at him and dragged him outside.