COLD LAKE, Alta. - RCMP say there is more than one side to the story of a recent arrest in which an officer kicked a handcuffed man lying on the ground in the face.
A video of the arrest, shot on a cellphone by someone at a rowdy party near Cold Lake, Alta., last weekend, clearly recorded the kick and the roaring protests of the crowd. The footage, uploaded to YouTube, is gaining attention and public outrage.
Adding to the shock is that the man kicked in the face, Richard Claybert, is hearing impaired.
RCMP say the video, which is one minute long, doesn't show that the giant of a man was drunk and had been taunting officers and flexing his muscles for a fight.
Supt. Randy McGinnis said Wednesday that officers went to Riverhurst Community Hall three times on Friday night and early Saturday morning. Some parents had organized a birthday dance for some young people and no alcohol was being served.
But word of the party spread through social media and about 100 others, including adults, showed up. Many were drinking in the parking lot and some had hauled in campers so they could stay overnight.
McGinnis said Claybert was acting like a mixed martial arts fighter preparing for a big match with police. At one point, McGinnis said, Claybert ran at an officer, stopped, laughed and walked away. "Various members in the crowd were encouraging him to get jacked up."
Officers "decided they had to something with this individual before the situation got out of hand."
Claybert repeatedly refused to leave the party and, when told he was under arrest, wouldn't get down on the ground, said McGinnis. Officers struck him in the leg with a baton but he didn't flinch.
After officers dosed him with pepper spray, Claybert voluntarily laid down on his stomach. McGinnis said officers had to use two sets of handcuffs on the man — about five-foot-10 tall and weighing 300 pounds — since his hefty arms wouldn't stretch all the way behind his back.
McGinnis said police were trying to link the two sets of cuffs together when the man started to roll over and struggle.
"He had two weapons attached to his wrists, a set of metal cuffs on one arm and a set on the other arm that he could use as a weapon and strike the members with."
McGinnis said an officer was using both of his hands to hold the man's arms down and the officer also had a knee on the man's back. The only thing he had left to subdue the man with was his foot.
McGinnis called it a "stun technique."
One kick landed in Claybert's face. A second kick missed, said McGinnis.
Claybert was taken into custody and released a few hours later. He didn't have a mark on him, said McGinnis. He also hasn't filed a complaint.
Claybert told CTV News that the arrest was "extreme" and his ribs and legs were injured, although he didn't go to hospital. Claybert didn't return calls for further comment.
McGinnis said the RCMP is taking the matter seriously and, even without a complaint, is investigating the officer for excessive use of force. The constable has been assigned to desk duties until it's determined whether he should face any internal or criminal charges.
Officers at the party seized the cellphone that recorded the video and made their own copy before returning it to the owner. Investigators also plan to ask Claybert for a statement.
McGinnis said only when Claybert was released did he tell officers that he was hearing impaired and reads lips.
Police at the party had conversations with him before the arrest and were unaware of his handicap, said McGinnis. But he also believes the loud crowd and dark parking lot must have made it difficult for Claybert to hear everything that was going on.
"I'm not sure how much he understood of the commands that the members provided to him."
RCMP have yet to officially lay charges but expect Claybert will be charged with causing a disturbance and resisting arrest.
He is to appear in Cold Lake provincial court Oct. 24.
— By Chris Purdy in Edmonton