A Vancouver man is suing the city claiming he was targeted by police earlier this year because of his size and the colour of his skin.
In a notice of civil claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court Aug. 10, 21-year-old Jamiel Moore-Williams claims he was dealt with by police “in a heavy handed manner” due to his “physical size and appearance including skin color.”
Moore-Williams is a black man who works as a personal trainer and is a football player. He played for the UBC Thunderbirds in the 2014-’15 season and was listed at 6’4” tall and 250 pounds at that time.
According to court documents, Moore-Williams was out with friends on the Granville strip in the early morning hours of Feb. 11. At about 2:30 a.m. he stepped onto Helmcken Street at the intersection of Granville Street to avoid being hit by rocks “thrown by a person seeming to be in mental distress.” A VPD officer in a squad car honked at Moore-Williams as he tried to cross the street against a red light and he reacted by “throwing his hands in the air in surprise and perhaps making a rude gesture towards the officer.”
The lawsuit claims Moore-Williams was then approached by another officer and tried to explain why he stepped into the street. The officer demanded he show his identification, which Moore-Williams claims he held out in his right hand.
According to the court documents, additional officers then converged on him at the same time.
Moore-Williams claims in his lawsuit that: "Three officers each grabbed one of the Plaintiff’s appendages: left arm, right arm and one leg. The Plaintiff’s remaining leg was taken out from under him by a police officer. Other officers pounced on the Plaintiff, kicking and hitting him in the head and body.”
Moore-Williams claims that another officer then Tasered him between seven and 14 times.
He was issued a ticket for jaywalking and also charged with two counts of wilfully resisting or obstructing a peace officer and is scheduled to go to trial early next year.
The lawsuit names 10 Vancouver police officers, and includes another five unnamed officers.
In the notice of civil claim, Moore-Williams maintains he had not been drinking or using drugs that night and has no known mental illness “and was not displaying any signs of mental illness at the time.”
The lawsuit claims that officers used excessive force “including but not limited to punching and kicking the Plaintiff in the head and body, with or without weapons” and used “potentially lethal force with a taser.”
Moore-Williams suffered a concussion and injuries to his hands, arm, neck and back.
Moore-Williams is also claiming police violated his charter rights starting with “the unnecessary attention, by the VPD officers, to this big black man who stepped onto the street in an area where club goers frequently cross or step onto the street.”
Additionally, the lawsuit says the incident caused extreme physical, psychological and emotional trauma.
None of the claims have been proven in court and representatives from both the City of Vancouver and Vancouver Police Department declined to comment on the lawsuit.
“We are aware of the civil claim filed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia,” media relations officer Const. Jason Doucette said in an email. “It wouldn’t be appropriate for the VPD to comment on a matter that is currently before the courts.”
As of Aug. 16, the city had yet to file a response to the civil claim, which must be filed within 21 days of the city being served the notice of civil claim.
The incident, and the actions by two police officers, is currently under investigation. The province’s office of the police complaint commissioner ordered a Police Act investigation shortly after the incident occurred. As well, the office asked the RCMP to look into the interaction to see if there was any criminal conduct by the police officers involved.
Deputy police complaint commissioner Rollie Woods said this week that the matter is still being actively investigated.
Calls to Moore-Williams’ lawyer were not immediately returned.