Toronto police face $5M lawsuit after disabled man’s beating caught on video
Chris Herhalt, CP24.com
Published Wednesday, November 18, 2015 12:16PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, November 18, 2015 4:12PM EST
The sister of a 21-year-old man with an intellectual disability says her brother must sleep with a light on and has nightmares after he was struck in the head countless times during an encounter with Toronto police officers earlier this month.
Santokh Bola had just arrived in a parking lot behind his family’s grocery store in Etobicoke on the morning of Nov. 1 when as many as four Toronto police officers tackled him to the ground and struck him at least 11 times in an incident caught on video by a bystander.
“He sleeps with a light on, he’s been having nightmares and when he sees a police officer or a cruiser, he flinches,” Sonia Bola says of her brother since the incident.
At a news conference Wednesday where lawyers Michael Smitiuch and Ken Byers announced a lawsuit seeking $5 million in damages from Toronto police in relation to the incident, the video clip was played, and replayed in slower motion.
In it, Santokh is struck repeatedly by officers. He is heard yelling that he didn’t do anything wrong, and at one point cries out for officers to find his grandfather or his parents who will tell them why he was there. Santokh was there that morning to start his shift at the store.
“Immediately when Santokh got out of his vehicle, officers immediately told him to get down or they would shoot, that’s what he recalls them saying,” Smitiuch says.
He added that officers were in the area that morning due to a report of a burglary in progress nearby.
“This young gentleman had done absolutely nothing wrong, he had just stepped out (of) his vehicle and then this happened.”
Santokh was taken into a police cruiser after the encounter, but he was never charged with an offence, Smitiuch said. His grandfather took him to a local hospital for treatment for lacerations and bruising around his head and face.
“We believe this video speaks for itself and shows excessive force that cannot be justified in this circumstance.”
Toronto police spokesperson Mark Pugash said police received a call four minutes before the video recording started, regarding a report of a man with a knife in the area.
"That is one of the most serious and dangerous calls that we get," Pugash said.
He added that Santokh's appearance matched the description given to police.
"Because the man matched the description, officers felt it was essential that they take him and put him under arrest immediately."
Officers later determined Santokh was not the man they were called to deal with, Pugash said.
The family has made a formal complaint to the police, but Smitiuch says that after an initial meeting at 23 Division, the police said they felt proper protocol was followed in the encounter.
“Every time I see the video, I still cringe,” lawyer Byers said.
Sonia said that when the family approached officers after the incident to express their outrage the day of the incident, they were bluntly told there was nothing wrong with what occurred.
“They were unremorseful, unapologetic, they told us that everything that was done was done under protocol, but instead of feeling our pain and seeing what we went through, they didn’t care, they could care less.”
Sonia said the entire incident could have been avoided if police let her brother take them to see his grandfather.
“Had they given him 30 seconds just to explain why he was there, had they given him a minute to corroborate his story, to walk 30 metres into the store to talk his grandfather about why he was there, all of this would have been avoided.”
When Sonia and the rest of her family learned that a bystander had taken a video of the incident, she said what they saw shocked them, but it was a “relief” that there was footage of what occurred.
“No one would have believed us, we wouldn’t be here today, nothing would have come out of it,” Sonia said of what she thought would have come from her family’s complaints without the video footage.
Smitiuch said the family has made a formal complaint to the province’s Special Investigations Unit, but so far, that agency has not reached out to the Bola family. Pugash told CP24 that the SIU was not notified because a liaison between the SIU and Toronto police determined injuries sustained by Santokh did not meet the SIU's threshold for severity.
Sonia said the incident, and the later decision to commence a lawsuit has been hard on her parents.
“We come from an Indian community where it’s all about obeying authority, and for us to take a step like this is totally out of our culture. It was hard for her. And even my father, I’ve never seen him cry before and he cried.
Pugash said the Office of the Independent Police Review Director has opened an investigation into what occurred.