Calgary police chief addresses video of police kneeling on woman during arrest

Calgary’s chief of police said Wednesday that two officers seen in a video kneeling on a woman during an arrest were not using excessive force.

According to a complaint filed under the Police Act, the officers were called to 51-year-old Tara Yaschuk’s home at about 1:30 a.m. on Oct. 22, 2019 after she called 911, believing her partner’s vehicle had been stolen.

In the complaint filed by Yaschuk’s lawyer David Chow, it explains the vehicle wasn’t stolen — but instead was borrowed by Yaschuk’s son, who came home and started explaining the situation while Yaschuk was still on the phone with 911.

According to the lawyer, at that point Yaschuk’s partner — who is the boy’s stepfather — “scolded his son and in doing so, made a hyperbolic comment (believed to be along the lines of ‘I’m going to strangle you.’)”

A short while later, two uniformed officers arrived at the house and “immediately pushed their way into the family home,” the complaint states. 

In video of the incident, taken by Yaschuk’s son and supplied by her lawyer, the officers are seen heading up the stairs and into a bedroom, where they encounter Yaschuk who questions who let them inside. Her son then responds saying no one let them in, “they walked in without permission.”

‘I will stop resisting’

Yaschuk, her son and one of the officers can be heard arguing, and the officer is seen pointing to the son who is recording and telling him to “get out.”

Yaschuk is seen touching the officer’s shoulder, before he pushes her back toward the wall and can be heard saying, “Seriously, I’m going to arrest somebody.”

That officer then attempts to arrest Yaschuk by grabbing her left wrist, and when she resists, a struggle ensues and eventually they both fall onto the ground. The video then shows both officers kneeling and leaning on top of a struggling Yaschuk as they try to handcuff her.

She continues to question the officers on why they’re arresting her, and one responds it’s for assaulting a police officer.

The officers continue to lean and kneel on her and demand she stop resisting them, to which she responds: “I will stop resisting.”

She then is rolled over onto her stomach and the officers continue putting pressure on her as she is heard saying, “I can’t breathe.”

Not characterized as excessive force

Speaking to the media about the video on Wednesday, Chief Mark Neufeld said the matter is under investigation, and “wouldn’t characterize the incident as excessive force at this point.”

Because the matter is also before the courts, Neufeld said he couldn’t speak in detail about the arrest, only saying neither officer has been charged and “there was a criminal charge laid in relation to the incident itself.”

Her lawyer told Global News on Wednesday that she was not aware of any charges and the charges Neufeld spoke of were a “complete shock.”

Police said a summons was issued to Yaschuk on March 6 in relation to the charge of assaulting an officer and intending to resist arrest. They are looking into whether there were delays in serving that summons due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Court documents show Yaschuk is scheduled to appear in court on July 17 to issue a plea.

Body-worn camera video part of investigation

The CPS only received the complaint on Sunday, Neufeld said, so its investigation is in its “relative infancy.”

“We have been able to look at the body-worn video — that’s a case where we have had that and that’s been helpful and will inform the investigation,” Neufeld said. “And so that will be completely investigated and we’ll arrive at determinations at the end of that process.”

Neufeld said despite the Yaschuk family having released their video, it’s too early to say whether the CPS will release the video from the body worn cameras to the public, citing a review of the video program as a whole, privacy concerns and whether it’s being used as evidence in court proceedings.

In a statement issued by Yaschuk’s lawyer on behalf of the family, Chow wrote that the family has, in the past, had the “utmost respect for for the police,” adding they’ve “long struggled with what transpired between them and the police in their own home” during the arrest incident, calling it “entirely unnecessary, abusive and unlawful.”

“Ms. Yaschuk’s motive for bringing this case to light is to support the public outcry for police reform,” the statement read.

“She requests a formal and independent investigation into this incident.”

There has been widespread calls for de-funding police and reform of police training in light of the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody in the U.S. in May.

Video of his arrest shows the arresting officer — one of four who were charged in relation to his death — kneeling on his neck for several minutes as he’s heard saying he can’t breathe.

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