Judge says case was ‘obvious police brutality’
Cop blasted for pepper-spraying a suspect handcuffed in cruiser
Bleeding from two lacerations in his cheek, Tyrone Hines was sitting in the back of a Toronto police cruiser, handcuffed, when the officer who had just struck him in the face with his baton pulled out his pepper spray.
What happens next in the “disturbing” video captured on a Toronto police incar camera left no doubt in Ontario Court Judge Richard Blouin’s mind that Const. Matthew Brewer used excessive force against Hines.
Calling the officer’s claim that he pepper-sprayed Hines to stop him from escaping “demonstrably false,” Blouin said the video showed clear “police brutality” — though Brewer and a fellow officer nonetheless attempted to defend it.
“Surprisingly, two police officers made disturbing attempts under oath to justify or explain obvious police brutality that was exhibited toward Hines after he was arrested and contained in that back seat,” Blouin wrote in a decision released this week.
“The court’s unequivocal condemnation of police brutality provides some comfort to Mr. Hines, however, it does very little to address the enduring consequences.” RONALD CHU LAWYER FOR TYRONE HINES
The officer’s behaviour in the immediate aftermath of a September 2016 fight inside a Yonge St. Popeyes restaurant prompted Blouin to stay four charges against Hines, including assaulting a police officer, and knife and cocaine possession. The move was “the only remedy capable of expressing this court’s condemnation of Const. Brewer’s excessive use of force,” the judge said.
Blouin also suspects Hines was already handcuffed when Brewer struck him with his baton, as Hines claimed — but unlike with the pepper spray deployment, there was no video capturing Brewer’s baton strikes.
Contrary to Toronto police policy, no audio or video is available from the first vehicle on the scene, leaving Blouin with only the testimony of two officers and Hines himself, none of whom the judge could fully rely upon.
Toronto police did not immediately respond to questions from the Star, including whether Brewer or any other officers will face an internal investigation by the force’s Professional Standards unit.
“The court’s unequivocal condemnation of police brutality provides some comfort to Mr. Hines, however, it does very little to address the enduring consequences,” said Ronald Chu, Hines’ lawyer. Chu said his client is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
David Butt, Brewer’s lawyer, could not be reached for comment.
Brewer has previously been convicted of unauthorized possession of a firearm following a 2016 incident in Durham Region, when he brought a handgun into the bedroom where his spouse was sleeping and then followed her through the home holding the gun.
According to Blouin’s ruling, Brewer put the gun in his mouth before going outside and firing it — eight times — into the air. Brewer said that, at the time, he was suffering from depression, alcoholism and posttraumatic stress disorder.
Brewer is currently facing a professional misconduct charge in connection with the incident, and has previously been disciplined for drinking while on duty.
He denied that alcohol was a factor in the Hines incident and “does not think his mental health problems were either,” according to the judge’s written decision.
Hines’ arrest on Sept. 25, 2016, came following a late-night fight between two strangers and Popeyes patrons, Hines and Christopher Humphries, who had just left a hockey game with a friend at the Air Canada Centre, according to the ruling. After Humphries noticed Hines swearing at restaurant employees and referring to them in racist terms, he decided to intervene, prompting Hines to say “I will f------ kill you, white boy,” according to Humphries. The interaction, partially captured on surveillance cameras, turned physical and Hines ultimately reached into his pocket, pulled out a knife, placed it between his fingers and punched Humphries, Blouin concluded. Humphries now has a three-inch scar on his face.
A citizen then stopped Brewer and his partner Det.-Const. Mike Tattersall, who were on patrol, and told them about the Popeyes fight. The officers soon after caught up with Hines, who refused the instruction to stop and instead walked away and dropped his knife on the ground.
Tattersall believed Hines may have had other weapons and told him he was under arrest, prompting Hines to resist and attempt to shove Tattersall, according to Blouin’s summary of the evidence.
It was then that Brewer came to assist, ultimately throwing Hines onto the ground. It was around this time that Brewer used his baton to strike Hines, though Tattersall said he did not see him use it because his face was up against Hines’ body, according to the ruling. Hines was handcuffed soon after, and officers later found him clutch- ing a bag of crack cocaine.
Blouin criticized the testimony of one of the officers who came on scene shortly after Hines was handcuffed — and whose car is the one that captured the rest of the interaction. According to the notes of Const. Raymond Li, Hines had been “argumentative” and “verbally combative,” and was “yelling, swearing.”
“This is not in any way true. The video shows that it was Brewer that was verbally combative and yelling and swearing at Hines,” Blouin wrote. “I conclude Const. Li to be a biased, untrustworthy witness. It appeared to me that he was attempting to justify the actions of his fellow officer.”
Although Blouin stayed charges against Hines, he found him guilty of assault with a weapon for the attack on Humphries. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for next week.