Witnesses to a police encounter in Winnipeg are speaking out, claiming to have seen officers punch, kick, Taser and baton a man who died less than a day later.
The Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba (IIU) is investigating the death of a 35-year-old man following his arrest in the early morning hours of Saturday.
Kristina Bauer, who lives in the area and witnessed the encounter, said she saw the man trip and fall in the parking lot of an apartment complex on Fairlane Avenue. Shortly after, several police officers arrived.
“He had no shoes on and no jacket on. When he stood up, he slipped and they were already grabbing on to him. And they started yelling at him to stop resisting,” she said.
Bauer said she witnessed a brief struggle before she saw officers use a Taser on the man.
“Then they all jumped on him and started hitting him there punching him and kicking him. He was not resisting. He was not throwing punches nothing,” she said.
Another resident, Mason Kabestra, said he grabbed his phone and started recording when he saw what was happening. He said one officer used a baton and hit the man several times while he was on the ground.
“At that point, I was like no… not for a man who is unconscious or a man who is drunk, has already been Tased,” Kabestra said. “There’s no point for this amount of force needed to be necessary.”
The man was taken to police where he later died according to police.
Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth held a rare news conference on Sunday to address what happened. He said police had got a call from a woman just after midnight about her boyfriend whom she indicated was intoxicated.
“She was worried about her toddler and her two infants that were in the suite at the time,” Smyth said.
Smyth said she called back minutes later to say he had fallen down the stairs from their second-floor suite and was lying in the snow at the bottom of the stairs.
Smyth said officers responded and found the man lying in the parking lot.
“They restrained in the male when they arrived on scene and as they were escorting him to cruiser car he became unresponsive,” Smyth said.
But those who witnessed the interaction, and caught it on video, said they saw something different.
“Clearly this is excessive,” Kabestra said.
When asked about the use of force, Smyth told reporters, “I know that our officers chose to restrain the male when they encountered him in the parking lot – and by restrain, I mean handcuff. So certainly they’ll account for why they did that and what occurred leading up to that but that would be up to IIU to determine that.”
The IIU said there was a use of force encounter between the man and police. The police watchdog is now probing the death and has requested a civilian monitor be appointed to the case.
Bauer hopes the investigation will shed some light on what happened.
“It was really traumatic and it was unnecessary,” she said.
The man’s family has posted a statement on social media saying they are devastated and are asking for privacy at this time.
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