'In Edmonton it happens a lot': Local Black man restrained by the neck during arrest speaks out
EDMONTON -- A Black Edmonton man whom video shows had a police officer's shin to his neck during an arrest is sharing his story after the death of George Floyd.
On July 27, 2018, Jean-Claude Rukundo was arrested after his wife, Sifa Ngeze, was involved in a car crash near Yellowhead Trail.
In shock, Ngeze called Rukundo to come help her. When he got there, Rukundo says he checked on his wife, the people in the other vehicle, and began to speak with two police officers.
Those two officers, Rukundo says, asked him if he wanted them to tow their vehicle or if they had insurance that would cover that.
Rukundo says he got on the phone with his insurance to get assistance.
"This is when I saw another police car, coming fast with the lights on," he said.
The first two officers were "doing everything peacefully, there was nothing. There was no drama; there was no raising voice, there was nothing. Everything was going the way it was supposed to go … until the second car drives by."
According to Rukundo, who was still on the phone with his insurance, that police officer came toward him and asked if he was involved in the crash
"I said, 'No, sir, but my wife, she is.' Then he said, 'Get the f*** off my [crime scene].' That's the language that he used the first time … then I was like, 'What's the issues here? She's the one that needed help. Why are you trying to make a small situation bigger?'
"So I was on the phone like that and he said, 'OK, I'm going to arrest you right now.'"
Video posted online by his wife shows a police officer putting his shin on Rukundo's neck and saying, "If you keep resisting, I'm going to f*****g Taser you."
In another video, Rukundo, with two officers on him can be heard saying, 'I didn't do nothing, sir. Stop putting pressure on me … I'm not trying to fight you.'"
In a statement to CTV News Edmonton, the Edmonton Police Service said, in part:
"After determining he was neither a driver nor a passenger he was asked multiple times to leave the immediate scene of the collision. He refused these repeated requests made by the officer on scene. A second police officer arrived, and tried to lead the man away to a safe distance. It was this time the male pushed one of the police officers, and assumed an aggressive stance. The officers present determined the male was arrestable. While attempting to arrest the male he continued to struggle which resulted in the officers taking him to the ground."
Rukundo denies pushing one of the officers.
"I never pushed any cops. I was trying to help those cops, trying to find the towing."
Rukundo was charged with obstructing a peace officer and resisting a peace officer. Those charges were later dropped.
EPS conducted an investigation after it interviewed witnesses and responding officers. One of the officers was disciplined for using profanity during the arrest.
Rukundo and his family decided to release the video in light of Floyd's death, the Black Minnesota man who died after a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes last week.
"The reason why we put this out, we know in Edmonton it happens a lot," Ngeze said. "It's not just George that died like that. But this one hit me even more."
"When I see that video, I start to cry," Rukundo said.
POLICE TACTICS AND USE OF FORCE
In a Zoom meeting with media Thursday, the officer who oversees training of EPS members, Staff Sgt. Terry Langley, said police officers are taught not to target the head and neck during an arrest, and to go for the shoulder blade area instead.
When CTV News asked Langley if the officer arresting Rukundo made a mistake, he said: "I think that obviously there is a more optimal target area to end up on on the subject, whether that's a mistake or that's the fluidity of the tactic trying to be exercised. Again, when I see the video there does appear to be the initial contact being made on the subject's shoulder blade…and it glances off the shoulder blade and it ends up across the neck or the back of the head, whichever it may be.
"I think it was not optimal…I'm not sure there was an intention to end up on that area at the back of the head."
He also said he believed the officer readjusted his leg when he could.
Rukundo said the police officer had his knee on his neck for three to four minutes.
"He didn’t just put his knee there — he dropped it," he said. "So he wants me to feel that pain."
Langley said video EPS obtained, which has not been posted to social media anywhere, showed it was much less than that — between 30 to 40 seconds. He would not elaborate on what this video shows, but said it could give more context surrounding the arrest.
"What was released may not capture, I guess the activity prior to the video that was posted. Nor does it necessarily catch afterward," he said.
EPS is discussing the possibility of releasing that video.
Langley said Edmonton police used force in approximately 0.89 per cent out of 265,000 case files in 2019.