Last Thursday, a 20-year-old man on a skateboard ran a red light in downtown Barrie, Ontario. Sirens wailed, lights flashed and he was pulled over. Like many who have committed a road safety violation he received a ticket from a police officer. Then he got back on his skateboard and rode away.
That’s where the story should have ended. Instead, perhaps in response to a rude comment, the police officer got back in his car and “flew down the main street,” said Kelly Platt, a bystander who witnessed the assault, in a Ricochet video interview. “He pulled in front of the boy and slammed on the brakes so the boy would hit the back of the police car.”
That police officer, whose identity has been withheld by the police department and the City of Barrie, has been assigned to alternate duties while an investigation is conducted into the beating he gave the skateboarder. That young man, Skyler Kent, was admitted to a local hospital on Friday suffering from head trauma. He faces charges of assault, resisting arrest and causing a disturbance.
It wasn’t the worst thing we’ve seen cops do. It might not have been the worst thing they did last week. For context, five people died in police custody or with police present in Canada in the first week of February. And in Montreal a man named Mamadi Camara was arrested last week in a case of mistaken identity, and spent six days in jail before police realized they’d mixed him up with a different Black man. That’s all just last week.
But the vivid footage showing the out-of-control rage of this officer struck a chord, and before long several bystander videos had gone viral. Platt’s account helps fill in the gaps in a story that hit front pages everywhere from CBC to TMZ last week, leaving observers to wonder what happened before the cameras started rolling.
Platt’s husband was working at a construction site up the street and saw Kent run the red light. He watched the cop pull him over and give him a ticket, then saw him leave and the cop tear off after him. Platt saw them coming, and what came next.
After a brief verbal exchange, in which Platt says the young man asked why he was pulled over a second time and the cop did not answer, he was slammed onto the trunk of the police car, and then thrown to the ground so hard “I could hear his head just hit the [pavement].”
“The boy was mouthing off a little bit, but you know, he’s a 20-year-old boy.”
That’s when Platt, and other onlookers on Dunlop Street, started filming.
The footage shows Kent on the ground, and a police officer lying on top of him. The officer threatens to “light him up” while pointing a Taser at his head.
Kent is wide-eyed, panicked. He cries out for help. He squirms. He can’t do what the officer is asking him to do with his arms, he says, because he can’t move his arms.
The officer cocks his arm back and swings the butt of the Taser at the restrained man’s head. He fumbles the strike though, and the Taser skitters across the wet pavement.
Another officer arrives and grabs the man’s legs. The first officer hauls the top half of the man’s body up to something approximating a sitting position. Grabbing the back of the man’s head and twisting his arm, the officer forces his head towards the nearby curb. The officer slaps the back of the man’s head, hard. It slams down into the concrete barrier.
Bystanders scream. A crowd has gathered. “Get back! Get back or you’re going in!” the officer roars at passers by, who are begging him to stop.
As another officer handcuffs the man, Kent lifts his head, ever so slightly. The first officer delivers a back hand slap to the back of his head. His skull can be seen bouncing off the curb.
Nowhere in the video, or in Platt’s account, does the victim make any aggressive gesture towards the police officer. He’s pinned down and not in control of his body for most of the video. He squirms and cries out, but at no point does he pose any kind of threat to the police officer assaulting him.
What Kent has told other outlets he did do is complain about the ticket he received, whipping off some choice words as he skateboarded away.
That grumbling about a ticket, which police officers face every day, was seemingly all the provocation it took for a public servant to chase him down and beat him so badly he ended up in hospital.
“Something needs to be done,” Platt told Ricochet. “You can’t be in that profession and be treating people like that.”
City, police force withhold officer’s identity
The chief of Barrie’s police service is Kimberley Greenwood. She said “the images captured in the video are concerning to both the public and myself,” in a statement posted to the police force’s website. But in practice, that concern is somewhat less apparent. A spokesperson for the Barrie police reached by Ricochet refused to identify the officer involved, and refused our request for an interview with the chief so she could explain why the department won’t identify the officer.
The investigation has been handed off to the Ontario Provincial Police. A spokesperson for the OPP also refused to identify the officer involved. Both cited the ongoing investigation, although they were unable to explain how disclosing the officer’s name would interfere with that investigation.
Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman says “he won’t be ignoring this.” That’s what he tweeted Thursday night. He is, however, ignoring interview requests from journalists. “Once we have all the details,” his tweet read, “there will be full accountability.” Transparency, on the other hand....
It’s not like this is the first time something like this has happened. Just last year, Barrie police were cleared in the death of a man whose violent arrest was caught on video and shared widely on social media, following an outside probe by Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit.
Ricochet has not been able to verify the identity of the police officer at the centre of this story. Radio host Dean Blundell claims to have identified the officer on his blog, and indicated to Ricochet that he confirmed his identity with a Barrie resident who knows the man. Blundell did not respond to a request to share contact information for the witness. But if he is correct, the cop in question is a school resource officer in eight Barrie-area schools.
As is so often the case in incidents of police violence, the cops have closed ranks around their officer. The public’s right to know comes second to the need to protect one of their own from the consequences of his actions. As is also often the case, municipal politicians, even progressive ones, are afraid to cross their own police force. The city could release his identity today. That they are not is a choice to appease the police force that comes at significant cost to the public interest.
So what next? The criminal charges filed against Kent stand. Unless those charges are dropped, he’ll face trial sometime this year for assaulting a police officer. They will eventually be dropped, or thrown out by a judge, but in the meantime they’ll wind their way through the courts racking up legal fees for Kent and his family. Meanwhile, the police officer who assaulted Kent will continue to be paid to protect the city of Barrie while an investigation takes place. He has not been charged, and if history is any indication it’s unlikely that he ever will be.
A 2018 CBC investigation found that 461 people died in encounters with police between 2000 and 2018 in Canada. Criminal charges were laid against just 18 of the officers involved, and only two of those charges led to a conviction.
If it’s well-nigh impossible to get accountability for police officers who kill people, what chance is there that there will be meaningful consequences for something so trivial as a beating?