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Harm reduction group alleges excessive force by Edmonton police officers

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Warning: This story contains imagery that may be disturbing to some viewers.

A local harm reduction group says force used by Edmonton police officers during a recent arrest on Whyte Avenue on Sunday was "appalling."

HARES Outreach provides food, water, clothing and harm reduction supplies to vulnerable people and raises money for mutual aid requests.

On Thursday, the organization released a video and statement of the March 26 arrest, which they claim shows the violence the unhoused community faces from police and demonstrates a need for "a more robust response to inappropriate use of control tactics."

The video shows a handcuffed person being walked to a police vehicle. The person kicks their leg out toward one officer, who slams them into the concrete. Blood is visible on the sidewalk beneath the person's face. They remain conscious.

A portion of the video was cut out to exclude the person's name, HARES said. HARES also blurred their face.

"The officer is far bigger than the person, they've already cuffed this individual and they responded to an ineffectual kick by slamming someone headfirst into concrete and it's just totally appalling the amount of force used in response to that," HARES said.

Leading up to the video, HARES said members conducting outreach in the area noticed a person in distress in the area of 83 Avenue and 103 Street around 1:40 p.m.

According to HARES, first responders tried to talk with the person who did not seem to want intervention and were "verbally aggressive."

The person, the organization added, is known in the community and “was rude but demonstrated no desire to hurt anyone and only wished to be left alone.”

“At this time, there were approximately 30 community members, four HARES volunteers and seven first-year medical students who were visiting our outreach program as part of their inner-city health elective who had witnessed this person in distress,” HARES said in a Thursday press release. “No one was afraid of them, or felt in any way endangered.”

HARES said one of its members began filming the interaction after two police officers arrived and subdued the person with a stun gun and arrested them.

"We are sharing this video as we believe it is important for people to see what kind of violence our unhoused neighbours endure when encountering police,” HARES said. “In our conversations with workers and volunteers in the sector as well as unhoused neighbours, this kind of violence is worryingly common.

“Calls for help escalate into potentially life-changing injuries without clear provocation, and people who are in distress become criminalized or brutalized instead of receiving the care they need.”

The video appears to show emergency personnel sedating the person and bandaging them before taking them away in an ambulance.

The organization said it is "investigating making a formal complaint but have not begun the process at this time."

EPS REACTION

The Edmonton Police Service said that two officers were called to the area to assist emergency responders with "an erratic person."

EPS said the person was reportedly "acting aggressively towards first responders and other people on scene."

When officers arrived, EPS said they were able to arrest the person "using verbal direction accompanied by the display of a conducted energy weapon (commonly known as a taser), but were later required to use additional force after the subject kicked one of the arresting officers."

EPS said the person's chin was cut. They were taken to hospital. The police spokesperson did not say if the person remains in hospital or if they have been released.

"The use of force was reported and documented per EPS protocol. Police were aware they were being filmed, and requested witness statements and video from bystanders and other first responders on scene," EPS said in a statement Friday. "The incident and video in question are being reviewed to determine if any next steps are required.

"There is no change to the duty status of the officers involved."

HARES said it has located the person and said the individual remains in the ICU. CTV News Edmonton has not been able to confirm that information but has reached out to Alberta Health Services.

Beyond the physical injury, HARES added, the trauma from the interaction is likely to be ongoing. 

"Being treated like that messes someone up, probably for life," a spokesperson for the organization said. "They're going to be released out of hospital into, again, being unhoused.

"And it's very possible that they'll have a similar interaction with police and that could well go worse as a result of the psychological trauma." 

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