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Video of Manitoba RCMP officer who appears to be kneeling on man's neck prompts investigation

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WINNIPEG -

An investigation has been launched after video was played in a trial which shows an RCMP officer who appears to be kneeling on a man’s neck as he screams he can’t breathe.

The case stems from an arrest more than two years ago outside Winnipeg’s James Richardson International Airport.

Officers were responding to a report of an assault involving an intoxicated man on the night of Aug.1, 2019. But now the accused, 42-year-old Nathan Lasuik of Alberta, is arguing his Charter rights were breached due to excessive use of force.

The video, which was presented as evidence in Lasuik’s assault trial and released to media outlets, was captured 10 months before George Floyd died under the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

It was one of two videos played in the trial last week at the Manitoba Law Courts.

In the nearly five-minute-long cellphone video captured by Lasuik’s father, one of the officers appears to be kneeling on his son’s neck while Lasuik screams he can’t breathe.

“You’re breathing,” an officer can be heard yelling in the video. “When you’re talking, you’re breathing.”

The cellphone video, introduced as evidence by defence lawyer Mitchel Merriott, has prompted the province's police watchdog, The Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba, to launch an investigation into the conduct of two RCMP officers.

Security footage which shows assaults on police and another individual was also played in court by the Crown.

Lasuik has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Asst. Commissioner Jane MacLatchy, the Manitoba RCMP’s commanding officer, said she first found out about the incident Wednesday following a news report.

“I found the video very disturbing,” MacLatchy said in a statement. “Hearing a man clearly informing police officers that he cannot breathe is all too present in our collective consciousness.”

The RCMP said it’s conducting an internal review and notified the IIU (Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba) which announced Thursday it’s probing the incident.

“Our officers responded to assist a member of the public who reported being assaulted, and they were assaulted in turn,” MacLatchy said. “This is a difficult situation for any police officer to deal with. However, a knee to the neck is not the response for which our officers are trained, and this incident needs to be further examined.”

The Mounties said officers responding to the assault first tried to de-escalate the situation without use of force. But they said the man became combative, striking a police officer in the face which was captured in the security footage.

The RCMP said the man was arrested, put in handcuffs, and then kicked an officer in the groin. That’s when they said he was taken to the ground and the officer appeared to put his knee on the man’s neck.

Brian Sauvé, president of the National Police Federation, which represents RCMP officers, said he watched the video. Sauvé said what was captured in the cellphone video alone doesn’t give enough context without seeing the lead up to the incident on the security footage captured at the airport.

“Based on what I saw in the video, I can’t say for certain that a knee was on a neck,” Sauvé said in a Zoom interview.

He said the union welcomes the IIU investigation into the alleged use of excessive force.

“Through that process Manitobans as well as the members involved will have a separate layer of investigation with expertise to make a determination on whether the use of force was appropriate,” he said.

The RCMP officers were called to testify in court at the assault trial for the man they arrested. CTV News Winnipeg reviewed portions of the audio from the first day of the trial.

Const. Eric Gerein, one of the officers who responded, told the court: “I got punched in the lip. Sucker punched from Mr. Lasuik.”

Gerein testified when they had Lasuik on the ground, they were focused on keeping him there until Winnipeg police arrived.

“I put my knee in between his shoulder blades, in that area…on the upper side of his shoulder blades,” Gerein told the court. “It’s one of the positions that we use that helps to keep somebody from fighting more.”

The officer testified Lasuik was trying to get up even though he had handcuffs on.

“In our training we’re taught to put our knee into the back of the shoulder, into the upper shoulder and if for some reason your knee gets into that neck area then it is what it is,” Gerein testified.

MacLatchy said in the statement a knee to the neck is not something officers are trained to do.

The RCMP said it’s reviewing the duty status of the officer involved.

Meantime, the assault trial is still ongoing. The case is set to wrap up later this month with testimony from a defence witness who’s an expert in use of force.  

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