Misconduct charges stayed against Toronto cops who blocked citizen filming arrest
Videographer says officers provided ‘sincere’ apology during closed-door mediation but details of resolution won’t be released to public.
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Misconduct charges against two Toronto police officers who aggressively blocked a citizen from videotaping the arrest of two black minors have been stayed following a closed-door mediation process, a police tribunal heard Thursday.
Consts. Shawn Gill and Brian Smith were each facing one count of discreditable conduct under the Ontario’s Police Services Act, stemming from a September, 2015 incident in which the officers physically blocked videographer Mike Miller from filming the arrest of two teens in the area of Jane St. and Lawrence Ave. W.
“Is there a reason why you’re videotaping?” Gill can be heard asking Miller in a four-minute video that shows the officers coming within inches of Miller’s camera, at times placing a hand over his lens.
“Because I have the right to,” Miller replied.
A three-day hearing into the officers’ misconduct charges — the result of an investigation by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) last year — was set to begin Thursday, but was abruptly cancelled following mediation between police and Miller.
Mediation is a voluntary form of “alternative dispute resolution” to complaints brought to the watchdog, according to the OIPRD’s website. But the terms of the resolution are confidential, meaning the public cannot know how it was resolved and what if any remedial actions were taken.
In an interview with the Star on Thursday, Miller said he was satisfied with the outcome, saying the officers provided a “sincere” apology.
“The experience enlightened me more in terms of where they are coming from. And I got to explain where I was coming from,” Miller said. “I believe now that if citizens are going to do this, they are not going to be intimidated.”
Miller said he could not provide details because the mediation process is confidential, but said a “stipulating condition” of the mediation agreement was that Toronto police officers would receive training on the fact that citizens have the right to videotape officers on the job.
Meaghan Gray, spokesperson for the Toronto police, said because the mediation is confidential, she could not comment on the specifics of the resolution.
But she said in general, Toronto police continues to educate officers on how to engage with the citizens who are videotaping their actions, as is their right. Officers know they can be filmed by the public, she said.
In an email, Gray said Toronto police is pleased with the outcome, saying the resolution is “a clear example of how the OIPRD’s mediation process can bring together all affected parties and resolve issues in a way that is informative and mutually respectful for all involved.”
Rosemary Parker, spokesperson for the OIPRD, said she could not discuss how the incident was resolved.
“I can say that the officers and the affected party had a fruitful and open discussion about the issues and came to a mutual understanding of how police and civilian interactions should positively occur. The parties acknowledged each other and their concerns.
Neither Gill or Smith spoke during the brief tribunal hearing Thursday.
Both officers were with Toronto police’s Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) at the time of the incident in the parking lot of a plaza at Jane and Lawrence on Sept. 14, 2014.
Miller, a professional videographer, was on his way to buy groceries when he noticed two black teens being detained by police.
Concerned about the controversial police practice of carding and racial disparities, Miller took out his phone and began filming — something he strongly believes is an important citizen right.
Soon after, Gill and Smith walked over and began crowding in on his camera lens — physically blocking him from videotaping the arrest of the teens who were later charged with possession of marijuana.
At one point, Miller asks the officer to “get out of my personal space,” which neither officer does. “I’m just talking to you,” says Gill. “You’re videotaping. I can’t engage you in conversation?”
Though he says he was intimidated, Miller kept filming as the officers blocked him, repeatedly asserting his right to record the arrest.
On Thursday, Miller told the Star he is feels confident the mediation process will help citizens record police without intimidation. Citizen-shot video is vital, he said, because it levels the playing field if a dispute between police and a member of the public goes to court.
“It’s important that we have the right to videotape,” he said. “Because the camera doesn’t lie.”