A Kelowna RCMP officer caught on camera punching a partially restrained man in the face multiple times was justified in the level of force he was using, according to the Attorney General of Canada.
Tyler Russell filed a lawsuit in June after cellphone video published by Castanet showed him being punched in the face multiple times by Const. Siggy Pietrzak while two other officers held his arms.
This week, the federal government filed a detailed response to the lawsuit, alleging Russell did not have permission to be driving the company vehicle he was in prior to his arrest and claiming he was in possession of drugs.
The court filing offers a full-throated defense for the actions of Const. Siggy Pietrzak and other responding officers.
“The Attorney General of Canada denies that the RCMP members used excessive force in apprehending the plaintiff, or otherwise, and say that any force they used against the plaintiff was reasonable and justified by law,” the response says.
Police were called to the downtown parking lot at 6:22 p.m. on May 30, 2020 for a report of a possible impaired driver. Constable Davidson arrived and approached the passenger side of the vehicle matching the complaint description and tried to speak with Russell, the court filing says.
Russell told the officer he did not want to speak with him. Const. Davidson, in the court filing, said he observed Russell sweating, had pasty lips and eyes that were moving erratically, so suspected him of being under the influence.
Const. Davidson then left the scene and was relieved by another officer, Constable Carter, who watched Russell in the vehicle for 45 minutes.
Const. Carter ran Russell’s license plate number and contacted the company that owned the vehicle. The court filing alleges the company and vehicle owner told Const. Carter that Russell no longer had permission to drive the vehicle and asked the officer to retrieve the keys from Russell.
Const. Carter approached the vehicle and asked Russell to exit and tried to obtain a breath sample, at which point Const. Carter claims Russell became argumentative and demanded to speak to his lawyer or a friend.
In the court filing, Const. Carter claims he called for backup and “verbally arrested” Russel for obstruction of justice and tried to handcuff him. A struggle ensued, but Const. Carter said he was unable to restrain Russell and feared for his safety. A second officer arrived, Const. Donahue, who tried to take Russel to the ground but failed.
Const. Siggy Pietrazak then arrived, and in what was partially caught on video by two bystanders, “applied multiple closed hand strikes to the plaintiff’s head in order to gain control.”
After Russell was loaded in the back of an RCMP cruiser, the court filing alleges officers searched Russell’s vehicle and found a half-empty bottle of hard liquor and a glass pipe with unburned white powder. A flap of white powder, believed to be cocaine or meth, was allegedly found in Russell’s wallet.
At 8:08 p.m., the claim response says Russell was taken to the Kelowna RCMP detachment at which time he requested medical care. Police allege that when paramedics arrived at the cells, Russell was acting aggressively towards them.
Staff Sergeant Trudeau directed that Russell be placed in a restraint chair. Paramedics then examined him and recommended he be sent to the hospital.
At that point, the court filing alleges S/Sgt. Trudeau told Russell he was free to go and was no longer in police custody and an ambulance would take him to hospital. At the request of the paramedics, an RCMP officer came along in the ambulance.
RCMP allege that Russell acted aggressively to nurses at Kelowna General Hospital. Russell claimed in his lawsuit that the police officer interfered in his ability to receive medical treatment at the hospital, something the RCMP disputes.
Russell was never criminally charged for the incident.
The Attorney General argues that police had reasonable and probable ground to arrest Russell and denies that the officers assaulted him in any way. The response claims that any injuries suffered by Russell were due to his own negligence as a result of resisting arrest.
Const. Siggy Pietrazak filed his own response to Russell’s lawsuit in August, stating he was not involved in the arrest of Russell beyond what was captured on video, calling his punches to Russell’s head “distraction strikes” required to assist in the arrest.
After the video of the arrest was made public, detachment commander Supt. Brent Mundle called it “concerning," but noted there are times when such a level of force is acceptable. Const. Pietrazak was placed on desk duty and a code of conduct and criminal investigation was launched.
Castanet News has requested an update from the RCMP on the status of the internal investigation and Pietrazak’s duty status.
None of the allegations in the Attorney General's response or Russell's original lawsuit have been proven in court.