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2nd Toronto cop pleads guilty for unlawful arrest of Black U of T student mistaken for suspect, repeatedly stunned

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A second cop has pleaded guilty in the case of a young Black man who was detained, Tasered, and had a knee placed on his neck after Toronto police officers mistook him for a suspect in a 2021 robbery investigation.

On Tuesday, Sgt. Rachel Saliba of the Toronto Police Service (TPS) pleaded guilty to a misconduct charge of unlawful or unnecessary use of authority at a disciplinary tribunal hearing in relation to the detention of Hasani O’Gilvie, a University of Toronto student who was on his way to an exam on Aug. 21, 2021, when officers stopped him and unlawfully detained him.

According to an Agreed Statement of Facts read out at the Tuesday hearing, the incident unfolded after Toronto police were called to a parking lot in North York for an alleged robbery at around 4 p.m. The robbery suspect was alleged to have just stolen a cellphone from an elderly woman, it said.

The statement acknowledges that O'Gilvie did bear a resemblance to the description provided but it points out that Saliba was also given a photograph for reference, as the suspect was out on bail for another offence at the time.

The call was also attended by Const. Jilliane Baquiran and Const. Seth Rietkoetter. When Rietkoetter arrived on scene, he located Saliba, Baquiran, and O'Gilvie, who appeared to match the description of the suspect, facing a wall, the statement reads.

“Approximately 17 seconds into the interaction, Sgt. Saliba took the complainant to the ground and attempted to handcuff him,” the tribunal heard.

Body-worn camera footage that captured the incident shows the complainant during the arrest. He was not punching, kicking, flailing his arms, or demonstrating assaultive behaviour, the statement reads.

He was, however, observed to tuck his arms under his body.

"As per the use of force model, he was actively resisting," the statement reads.

Operating under the belief that O’Gilvie was resisting arrest, Reitkoetter began to take the man down in a physical restraint, placing his knee on the suspect’s neck, according to the statement.

Rietkoetter then fired his energy weapon, commonly known as a Taser, five times before O’Gilvie was fully detained, it continues.

A knee that was placed on O’Gilvie’s neck was not removed until after he was stunned and handcuffed, according to the documents.

Once fully restrained, O’Gilvie was told he was under arrest for theft and failure to comply. Around this time, O’Gilvie began trying to identify himself to officers, including producing a bank card and driver’s licence with his name on it.

“At this point, there was uncontroverted evidence that the complainant was not the suspect from the unknown trouble call,” the statement reads.

The statement says officers then placed O’Gilvie in a cruiser, “despite knowing that [they] had incorrectly identified the complainant as the suspect.”

According to the documents, Rietkoetter did not explain to O’Gilvie the reason for his continued detention, failed to inform him of his rights, and turned off his body-worn camera before the interaction was completed.

“After all three officers were completely satisfied they had arrested the wrong person, Const. Rietkoetter let the complainant out of the police vehicle and removed his handcuffs," the document reads.

The tribunal heard that, in the wake of the incident, Saliba expressed remorse for her role in taking O'Gilvie to the ground.

“I was extremely apologetic at the time and I still am,” Saliba said, through a statement read by her lawyer. "I am truly sorry not only to you [O’Gilvie] and your family but anyone else who has been negatively affected."

On Monday, Rietkoetter also pleaded guilty to one count of misconduct. A joint penalty submission also seeks a temporary demotion. His penalty will be decided upon at a later date.

The remaining officer involved, Const. Jilliane Baquiran, is scheduled to appear before this tribunal this week.

O'Gilvie, alongside his mother, Christine Stought-O'Gilvie, a teacher with the Toronto District School Board, launched a $2.4 million lawsuit against the service following the arrest. On Tuesday, the family's lawyer, David Shellnutt, confirmed it has since been resolved.

"The civil claim resolved to the satisfaction of all parties at the end of 2023 prior to the filing of a statement of defence by the defendants," Shellnutt said.

For more than a year now, Shellnutt has been fighting for the release of the body camera footage at the centre of the case.

"We remain embroiled in an Information and Privacy Commission appeal to get the release of the footage, but a decision has not yet been rendered. I submitted my submissions in April 2023 and have not received a decision since then," he said.

A court sketch of the Feb. 27 hearing can be seen above. (Alexandra Newbould)

Race factor in dispute

Whether the incident was racially motivated was in dispute at both Rietkoetter and Saliba’s hearings.

Lawyer for O’Gilvie, David Shellnutt, argued that the Agreed Statement of Facts put forth to the tribunal lacked an acknowledgment of race.

With the Toronto Police Service having acknowledged a systemic problem with anti-Black racism back in 2022, Shellnutt argues the incident has broader implications on relationships between police and racialized communities in the city.

“The use of force against Mr. O’Gilvie represents the human face of the disproportionate use of force,” Shellnutt said Tuesday.

The lawyer highlighted that the tactic used against O’Gilvie – a knee placed on his neck – was the same used in the high-profile police killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in 2020.

Both Saliba’s and Rietkoetter’s lawyers submitted that race was not a factor in the arrest. They argued it should not be considered as it wasn't mentioned anywhere in the statement of facts.

“Here’s the thing," Shellnutt said at Saliba's hearing. "If anti-Blackness in policing was as simple as an officer using a racial epithet then we would have solved the issue long before Chief Ramers' apology."

"We need to view these interections with nuance and understanding of the pervasive ways in which racism has permeated our culture," he continued. "Its unlikely these ofificers are card-carrying racists, but participating in a system that perpetuates anti-Blackness means that we can unknowingly perpetuate its traits.”

'Please, treat them with dignity'

At a press conference held Tuesday morning, Stought-O’Gilvie told reporters her family is still in the process of healing.

“My son, by nature, is an introverted, young man, so you can imagine how this trauma has caused him to suffer,” she said.

Christine Stought-O’Gilvie, a teacher with the Toronto District School Board, told reporters her family is still in the healing process, years after her son's arrest.

Having observed Rietkoetter’s hearing the day earlier, Stought-O’Gilvie said she felt empathy toward the officer.

“I was actually surprised I felt sorry for him,” she said. “But this gentleman could have killed my son.”

While O’Gilvie’s mother described the power of grace and forgiveness in this case, ultimately, she feels the officers involved must learn an important lesson.

“So, to police officers, when you see young Black men, don't assume that they're all criminals, please, treat them with dignity.”

Saliba has served with the force since 2019. She is facing a temporary demotion as penalty, which is set to be handed down by the tribunal's hearing officer at a later appearance. 

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