Decades-old killings, beating of Black men spark outcry around Toronto police promotion
Some members of Toronto’s Black community are raising concerns after a police officer who was cleared after killing two Black men and was accused of beating a third some three decades ago is now the head of the Toronto police’s professional standards unit.
The appointment of Supt. Rick Shank was made in the midst of a stay-at-home order during the pandemic two years ago. The professional standards unit is responsible for internal accountability and public confidence in the police.
But those goals may be much harder to reach when Shank’s history is taken into consideration, which includes a photo obtained by CTV News that shows Shank as a young constable holding up his bloody knuckles after one incident in 1993.
“The signal that you’re sending to the general public and your own police officers is you can get away with whatever you want and you’ll be rewarded,” said author and activist Desmond Cole, who wrote about the appointment last week.
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In a statement, the Toronto Police Service (TPS) said the force found no misconduct in those incidents and Shank was not convicted, adding that focusing on those incidents in the 1990s misrepresents who he is both as a person and a police officer.
“Superintendent Shank has served as a police officer for over 30 years with an exemplary record and is recognized for his many contributions to policing. Over the course of his career, he has demonstrated the highest levels of professionalism, ethics and leadership, and has a record of service to the community. We stand by Superintendent Shank and his service,” the TPS said.
In 1993, Rick Shank shot and killed 20-year-old Ian Coley. Shank claimed the 20-year-old had pointed a gun at him. He was cleared by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which found that “Const. Shank instinctively used deadly force to justifiably protect himself.”
Questions were raised at the Coroner’s Inquest about Shank working alongside what was then known as the “Black Organized Crime Squad.”
“It seems this unit gives extra policing of people in the Black community over and above all the normal policing,” Coley’s family’s lawyer, Peter Rosenthal, told CTV News at the time.
Among the coroner’s jury recommendations were to disband the squad and to stop using the phrase “non-white” in police communications.
Shank and others were accused in a lawsuit of beating a young Black man in December of that year. A video obtained by CTV News shows 29-year-old Paul Reece being hauled, unconscious, from a police vehicle. His head hits the side of the police car.
Once in the station, he’s told by an officer, “You’re under arrest for assault with intent to resist arrest.” Reece replies, “I never assaulted nobody.”
Video shows Paul Reece being dragged from a police video in 1993.
Reece claimed Shank and others had beaten him at a cemetery on the way to the police station after an arrest in a traffic stop that turned into a melee in his family’s home. A police photo taken after that incident shows Shank demonstrating his bloody knuckles for the camera.
Reece’s mother Claudette said in an interview at the time that she was punched in the stomach and grabbed around the neck when police came to the door. She said when the family tried to follow the police vehicle, with their son inside, other cars boxed them in.
The trial judge threw out the charges against Reece, saying Shank was not executing his duties lawfully in the arrest. An appeals judge decided not to order a new trial, saying, “the evidence suggests that the actions of participants on both sides left much to be desired and far less than is properly expected by the community at large.”
The Toronto police say the SIU found there was no evidence to corroborate Reece’s claim of serious injury, which is the standard when the civilian investigators get involved. The force says Shank did not face any internal misconduct charges at the time either.
Reece sued for $7 million and the lawsuit settled out of court, according to reports at the time.
In 1997, Shank shot Hugh Dawson nine times as he sat in his driver’s seat, unarmed, in a drug bust. Shank was charged with manslaughter, a charge that led first to a hung jury, and then an acquittal, with Shank noted for a Toronto police first—killing two people.
Jack Ritchie of the Metropolitan Police Association said at the time, “He’s had this happen to him twice. He knows what it’s like, he’s been through it, he must be living a nightmare.”
Decades later, in February 2021, Toronto’s Police Board approved Shank’s promotion to a superintendent. He was assigned by the chief to lead professional standards.
The appointment was in the midst of a stay-at-home order during the pandemic, with the board meetings being conducted over zoom. A video recording of the motion shows no discussion before the vote.
Looking at the appointment today, the promotion sends the wrong message, said former Toronto Mayor John Sewell.
“The bigwigs in the Toronto Police Service all said, ‘This is perfectly fine.’ I think what it means is that this is a real demonstration of police culture, where it’s so ingrained in police, the violence, discrimination against racialized people, it’s not a big problem,” he said.
Toronto police Supt. Rick Shank is seen in this photograph alongside former chief Mark Saunders.
The promotion did meet eligibility requirements and internal references, said a Toronto Police spokesperson, adding they have been clear in their commitment to confront anti-Black racism and over the past several years have been working harder than ever to promote equitable, fair, and non-discriminatory policing.
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