Warning: this article contains video and details that may be disturbing.
MONTREAL — A disturbing cellphone video that allegedly captures a Montreal police intervention prior to the fatal shooting of a black man last June reveals officers used disproportionate force, lawyers representing the man's family said Wednesday.
Lawyers for Pierre Coriolan's sisters told a news conference they were suing the City of Montreal, alleging police were abusive and used unnecessary force in their efforts to arrest the 58-year-old man in June 2017.
The sisters also released the video shot by Coriolan's neighbour in order to encourage a public debate about the use of police force, their lawyers said.
Virginie Dufresne-Lemire, one of the lawyers representing the family, said within the span of just over one minute, police used Taser guns, rubber bullets, a service weapon and a telescopic baton on the man.
"They used abusive and disproportionate force against him, and they gave him no chance," she said.
In a news release following the June incident, the independent watchdog that investigates police-involved shootings said Coriolan was distressed and holding a screwdriver in each hand when police responded to a disturbance complaint at a housing complex in Montreal's gay village.
They used abusive and disproportionate force against him, and they gave him no chance.Virginie Dufresne-Lemire
Police first used a Taser and rubber bullets on Coriolan, the watchdog reported, but eventually drew their service weapons when those methods failed to subdue him.
Dufresne-Lemire said the lawsuit, filed on behalf of two of Coriolan's sisters, is seeking $50,000 for each of them for moral damages and a further $50,000 in punitive damages.
Alain Arsenault, also on the family's legal team, said he had little faith in the watchdog's probe and said a lawsuit is the best avenue to obtain justice for Coriolan.
Arsenault said the decision to release the video, which was obtained over the summer, was prompted in part by frustration over the slow pace of the investigation and the watchdog's refusal to provide updates to the family.
The four-minute video, which begins partway through the police intervention, opens with the sound of yelling followed by a crackling sound, and then three loud bangs.
Warning: the following video may be disturbing to some viewers.
Five police officers appear on camera in the hallway of a building, facing a black man wearing a red shirt who appears to be on his knees.
One of the officers orders Coriolan in French to get to the ground. Several seconds later, one or more shots are heard and the kneeling man collapses.
Later in the video, an officer appears to be crouching next to the man and says: "drop it." Another officer then unfolds a telescopic baton and swings it in the direction of the prostrate man.
He was a proud man who faced his demons with his head held high.Johanne Coriolan
Coriolan's niece, who was present at the news conference but did not speak, described her uncle in a letter read aloud by a friend as a "loving and loveable man," who was like a father to her.
"He was a proud man who faced his demons with his head held high," wrote Johanne Coriolan.
Will Prosper, a community activist who took part in the news conference, said the video raises serious questions about the actions of the police leading to Coriolan's death.
He said the officers arrived at the scene "armed to the teeth" and made no attempt to speak with an agitated Coriolan in order to de-escalate the situation.
"What is the threat of that black man on his knees right now?" he said, referring to the video. "That's a firing squad he's facing right now."
Prosper said the death is part of a pattern of police violence against people who are black, impoverished or mentally ill. Coriolan, he said, was all three.
He said police should not be the first ones dispatched to intervene in cases involving people with mental health problems, and called on the city to hire a team of specialists who can better handle crisis situations.
The family is starting a fundraising campaign to finance its legal costs.