Genesta Garson, 19 Woman KO punched in the face by RCMP Officer


Genesta Garson, 19 Woman KO punched in the face by RCMP Officer

Officers surround Genesta Garson, 19, after a community security officer in Thompson, Man, punched her face and knocked unconscious.

Two Community Security Officers drag Garson into the RCMP detachment holding cell

Hospital records that night say Garson's struck officer with her belt, so she got stuck in the face

Defense lawyer Rohit Gupta says Garson deserves justice for her

The law allows anyone believed to be intoxicated in public detention. Not formally arrested.

Howard Morton, Ontario's former police watchdog, says the force used against Garson was excessive

Due to the lawsuit, officials with Thompson City, which employs community security officers, and RCMP could not speak directly about Garson 's allegations or video.

Supt. Kevin Lewis, RCMP's North District Commander, called it 'sad and unfortunate' that Garson now fears police.

Genesta Garson, 19, was taken to the Thompson RCMP detachment on suspicion of being intoxicated

Video showing a woman knocked out, dragged to the RCMP cell prompts lawsuit,

Woman says she was harassed to drop her complaint against officers

Genesta Garson

At an RCMP detachment in Thompson, Man., a First Nations woman was knocked unconscious and despite the act being caught on video, no formal investigation was launched and the woman says she was harassed withdrawing her complaint against the officers involved.

The video, obtained by CBC News through a court application, has one former police watchdog calling for a full probe, and prompted a lawsuit alleging she was discriminated against because she is indigenous. Garson is Tataskweyak Cree Nation.

Genesta Garson was 19 when she was picked up on Jan. 6, 2018 outside the Northern Inn in Thompson, a city about 13,000 in northern Manitoba, on suspicion of being drunk.

She was to sleep the night on a cold cement bed in a holding cell.

She instead left an ambulance after a security officer punched her in the chin, knocking her unconscious.

Genesta Garson

"I no longer feel safe around RCMP officers, not since that happened," Garson told CBC News.

"They dragged me into the cells. My body was shaken from being hit hard in the head."

Garson admits she had some beers that night, but says she was arrested after slipping on the ice.

She was taken to the local RCMP detachment and forced to strip her bra down to one layer of clothes for safety reasons. She was wearing several layers of frigid weather.

Surveillance video shows three officers around her, removing each layer. Two are male community safety officers, quasi city-employed by-law officers. The third is RCMP female officer.

The video shows Garson taking off her belt, then hesitating. When a security officer moves toward her, she moves away.

"I felt very uncomfortable when asked to remove my bra," Garson said.

Genesta Garson

She takes off her belt and throws it at him and the RCMP officer.

"I tried to give the male officer my thin , soft belt so fast, he thought I'd hit him," she said.

He strikes Garson in the face, and her head hits the wall. She falls to the ground, smacking her head on the concrete floor.

'Words lost'

Since Garson lay on the ground, the female RCMP officer quickly removed a pants layer.

Then the two male officers take her by the hands, dragging Garson back and into a jail cell.

She's left on her back in the cell for about 15 minutes when paramedics arrive and take her to the hospital on a stretcher.

"I'm lost for words on this case. I'm lost for words," said her lawyer, Rohit Gupta, watching the video.

"That's a clearly painful person who came into this detachment standing on their own two feet and left in a stretcher."

Hospital records from that night say she "struck the officer with her belt, punched her face."

They also note she was cut on her lip, bruising her chin and losing consciousness for 10 seconds. Bruising had appeared on her head side, struck the wall after being punched.

Watchdog lacks jurisdiction

Under Manitoba's Police Services Act, Community security officers may detain someone if they are in public and believed to be intoxicated.

But they are not under the jurisdiction of the police watchdog of the province, who investigates when an officer may have caused a person's death or serious injury, or contravened certain laws.

RCMP officials say security supervision falls to Thompson City and the RCMP would investigate if there were criminal allegations.

Genesta Garson

A former police watchdog, like police officers, says these officers need independent oversight.

Howard Morton, who ran the Special Investigations Unit of Ontario in the mid-1990s, says what he saw in the surveillance video represents excessive use of force and that a full investigation should be launched

"When he punctures her in the face, it's a question of retaliation. It's not a matter of defending against further assaults," Morton said.

He pointed to three officers in the room surrounding her, so she couldn't escape. The officer might have backed, grabbed, or even just shoved her.

"But using a punch to the face as self-defense ... seems to me clearly out of proportion to what our law allows," he said.

Morton says the first thing the Manitoba government needs to do is place security officers under the jurisdiction of the Independent Investigation Unit.

Gupta's agreed. He says lack of oversight "allows them to go and operate with impunity."

More than 27,000 arrests

Garson 's case is just one of the more than 27,000 times a person has been detained under the RCMP's Intoxicated Persons Detention Act (IPDA) in northern Manitoba over the past five years.

Although the region has a fraction of Winnipeg's 700,000 population, RCMP figures show that people in the North are detained under IPDA at a rate six times higher than those in the capital.

Genesta Garson

The law allows anyone believed to be intoxicated in public detention.

They are not formally arrested, and there is no record available through open court proceedings.

The law is intended to help protect an intoxicated person from endangering themselves or others.

But it's used disproportionately against indigenous people, Gupta said.

He's spent the years in the North as a criminal defense attorney and says he frequently sees intoxicated indigenous people wind up in jail, while anyone else gets a ride home or cops warning.

"Law applies differently," he said. "There's a big difference in how people are treated."

Pressurized complaint withdrawn

After leaving hospital, he was charged with assaulting an officer. Gupta took her case pro bono and later stayed.

In November 2018, Gupta helped file a formal complaint against the RCMP with the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission.

Genesta Garson

The complaint, obtained by CBC, says Gupta was the formal contact of RCMP throughout the process.

That wasn't, though.

Instead, Garson and Gupta say several different RCMP officers came to Garson 's home in Split Lake, 140 kilometers north of Thompson, asking her to sign a complaint withdrawal form.

Garson says she felt intimidated, pressured, and wanted to leave her alone, so she signed.

"They kept coming to my house and where I worked until I signed the paper," Garson said. "After that, they left me alone. I don't remember how many times, I lost count."

Gupta said he was shocked to get a letter from RCMP officials saying Garson withdrew the complaint.

"I find all this most appalling," Gupta said.

"RCMP know I'm Ms. Garson's counsel and yet try to circumvent that process by talking to her alone?"

Lawsuit filed against RCMP

Genesta Garson

Due to the lawsuit, officials with Thompson City, which employs community security officers, and RCMP could not speak directly about Garson 's allegations or video.

City manager Anthony McInnis said none of the community safety officers involved remain in those positions, and only one remains a city employee. He'dn't say which one.

The lawsuit , filed in January, names the RCMP, Thompson City, the Attorney General of Canada, two community security officers — Garrett Allen and Thomas Warkentin — and the RCMP officer, Const. Hulan Jenelle.

Allen, named in the suit as the person punching Garson, declined to comment when reached by phone. He directed all city manager questions.

The suit seeks damages, alleging the arrest and subsequent assault was "regious, [and] reprehensible."

It also argues that Garson 's charter rights were violated and she was discriminated against as being indigenous.

Two separate RCMP and city defense statements deny the allegations.