Sherri Penner says she would not wish what happened to her son, Evan Penner, on anyone.
“He did not deserve that,” she said through tears at a news conference Thursday at the office of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) regarding the force used in her son’s arrest by Saskatoon police this past Saturday.
She travelled from Manitoba after seeing video of the arrest of her son, who is from Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation in northern Manitoba.
“I was very upset. I couldn’t even finish watching the video,” Sherri Penner told reporters. “As a mother, it’s very hard to see something like that happen to your child, and I wouldn’t want that to happen to anybody else’s child.”
Evan Penner’s arrest in the 500 block of 11th Street East was captured on video.
In the video, officers can be seen punching Penner several times as he struggles on the ground. Penner was also pepper-sprayed and Tasered during the incident.
The video sparked calls from advocates for the officers involved to be fired.
WATCH | Sherri Penner speaks at a news conference in Saskatoon Thursday:
“What happened to Evan Penner is intolerable,” said Eleanore Sunchild, who is providing legal counsel.
“Police brutality has to stop,” said Sunchild, adding the family will be taking all legal action necessary to get justice.
FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said Penner was just trying to protect himself in the video.
He said the federation is supporting the family and will be focusing on its calls for the officers to be fired.
“No mother in this world, in society, should have to witness or see or experience their child getting beaten to the point where he had no other recourse but to squirm around and try to protect himself,” he said.
Cameron also said investments need to be made in education and awareness — not a new remand centre, which was recently announced by the provincial government.
Watch the video of Penner’s arrest here:
A woman who owns a building in the area where Penner was arrested previously told CBC she made a non-emergency call to police after a tenant reported feeling unsafe, as Penner was using the apartment block’s garden hose to bathe.
He is facing charges including attempting to disarm a peace officer, assaulting a police officer, mischief and possession of a controlled substance.
The FSIN is calling on the Saskatoon Police Service to immediately review and amend its use-of-force policies.
Tried to grab officer’s Taser: police chief
When asked during a board of police commissioners meeting on Thursday about Penner’s arrest, Saskatoon Police Service Chief Troy Cooper said that police were responding to a call about a suspicious person.
The responding officer located Penner found in a yard that was not his and moved in to make the arrest, Cooper said. Penner was crouched and facing away from the officer.
“Based on their interaction, based on officer observation of the situation, the officer reached out to arrest and take Penner into custody for mischief,” Cooper said.
Cooper said a struggle ensued and the officer used force, including using pepper spray, before calling for backup.
“Penner was able to open the officer’s duty belt,” Cooper said. “He removed the pistol magazines from the officer’s duty belt and attempted to take control of the officer’s [Taser].”
That’s when backup arrived and the stun gun was used on Penner.
Cooper said a complaint has been received and he has asked the Public Complaints Commission to investigate. He has also requested “adequate oversight” from the deputy justice minister.
Demand for mental health teams too high
Coun. Randy Donauer asked the police chief at the board of commissioners meeting if the police service would prefer to have another team or service responding to calls that are non-criminal, to allow the SPS to attend to other matters. Cooper said he would be in favour of such an agency, with the proper processes and checks in place.
Many calls to Saskatoon police are not criminal in nature, Cooper said, and when officers work with PACT — the police and crisis team — they are able to divert people to the most appropriate services required, whether it’s a doctor, a family member or the justice system.
PACT units pair officers with mental health professionals to respond to calls, Cooper said, but they are consistently busy with calls and aren’t available for all shifts.
“We have demand far exceeding our supply at the moment,” he said. “A lot of the services available to us are not available 24 hours per day.”
Donauer asked the public to reserve judgment about what is shown in the video of Penner’s arrest, and to let the oversight and review process complete itself.
“As long as we’re going to send police into dangerous situations while we run away from them, there does need to be an acknowledgement that that won’t always look neat and tidy … on video,” Donauer added.
‘Unnecessary force’: FSIN
But Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Vice-Chief Dutch Lerat, speaking on behalf of the First Nations Justice Commission, said Thursday the FSIN feels Penner suffered “unnecessary force and violence at the hands of police.”
He said there are several aspects of the arrest the FSIN is concerned about, including the use of the Taser after Penner appeared to be controlled, the lack of less violent control methods, such as joint manipulation, and the fact Penner was seen by a paramedic rather than a doctor.
Lerat also said it’s his understanding the three-point hold seen in the video is not sanctioned for use by police.
“There was a lot of force used on this young man where it could have been contained in a more peaceful manner,” he said.
Lerat renewed calls for an independent, civilian-led oversight body to not only investigate instances of serious injury or death during police interactions, but also to review all allegations of unnecessary force and violence against Indigenous people.
Police officers are permitted to use reasonable force in the execution of their duties, but that protection is lost when the threshold of reasonable force is exceeded, said Lerat.
“Police officers need to be reminded that they do not have unconditional authority in the performance of their duties,” he said.
Lerat said the FSIN is calling for all municipal police services and the RCMP to publicly release the number of times officers have used Tasers over a certain timeframe and whether their use was consistent with internal policies.
The FSIN also wants a public inquiry to answer questions about systemic racism with the province’s police service and provide recommendations to help address the issue.
“We are living through difficult times, and I call upon every police officer and citizens of Saskatchewan to call for change,” he said.
He says the FSIN and other Indigenous groups have attempted, with some success, to strengthen the relationship between Indigenous people and police, and there are exceptional men and women who serve as police and take their oaths seriously.
But many of the FSIN’s citizens still feel apprehensive around police officers.
“That fear and mistrust is real,” he said.
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