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Alberta police watchdog: Use of leg sweep that left suspect paralyzed was justified

January 12, 2024  By The Canadian Press


Jan. 12, 2024, Calgary, Alta. – Alberta’s police watchdog says an RCMP officer was justified in a takedown that resulted in the broken neck and paralysis of a suspect during an arrest.

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team says officers responded to a call about a suspected break-in at a business in Wanham, a tiny hamlet north of Grande Prairie, in June 2022.

The agency’s final report, released Friday, says the business owner discovered two people stripping copper wire, pointed a shotgun at them and waited for police to arrive.

It says police put the suspects in handcuffs and, when one kept trying to reach into a pocket in his hoodie, an officer used a leg sweep to take him to the ground.

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Shortly after, the suspect told police he couldn’t feel his legs.

He was transported to hospital by air ambulance with a complete spinal cord injury that has left him a quadriplegic. The condition is permanent, the report says.

“Officers were dealing with a situation where (the suspect) was admittedly trying to access his hoodie pocket where there was obviously something, given the bulge in it,” ASIRT executive director Mike Ewenson writes in the report.

“It was reasonable to believe that he was in possession of some sort of tool(s) (i.e. wire cutters, or other items capable of cutting or stripping wire) capable of being used as a weapon to harm someone.”

Pliers and drug paraphernalia were later found in the man’s hoodie.

The report says the man alleged one of the officers picked him up by the throat and slammed him to the ground. But Ewenson says police video contradicted the claim.

“The video clearly shows that he was not picked up off the ground and slammed onto the ground. He was only tripped to the ground from a standing position.”

Ewenson says officers are authorized to use force that is reasonably necessary. He says there is no evidence the officers engaged in any unlawful or unreasonable conduct.

“The sweep was of a kind routinely done, where an officer’s leg is positioned in front of an offender’s leg and the offender is pulled forward such that they are swept/tripped to the ground,” he says.

“Injuries of this nature are extremely rare. This was an unfortunate and unintended consequence of a lawful use of force.”


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