Video played in court shows Hamilton police officer ‘stomp’ on Indigenous man’s head during arrest

WARNING: This story contains distressing details

Patrick Tomchuk was violently arrested in May, a video played in court and viewed by CBC Hamilton has shown. Hamilton Police Services (HPS) Const. Brian Wren has been charged with assault as a result of the incident.     

Tomchuk’s lawyer Jennifer Steenbeek showed the video at Tomchuck’s bail hearing, held Wednesday at John Sopinka Courthouse.

Tomchuck is an Indigenous man who was arrested for vehicle theft on May 26 at a gas station on the Mountain. 

“He was unconscious and they still continued to stomp on his head,” Tomchuk’s sister Dhelia Baldwin said, adding that the video made her sick to her stomach. 

In the video, several officers are seen tackling Tomchuk between the gas station pumps. The officers appear to forcibly manoeuvre the man, while yelling expletives at him, before an officer kicks Tomchuk in the head, then repeatedly holds his head down into the pavement with his foot. 

Tomchuk appears to be unconscious for most of the video. 

Before the video was played in court, Tomchuk’s children were asked to leave the room. Tomchuk’s family members who remained, including his mother, sister and cousins, cried when they saw the video.

Officer charged with assault

Wren was suspended after the incident, and was later charged with assault on June 16 after an HPS investigation. 

The video was given to Tomchuk’s lawyer confidentially by a bystander who witnessed the incident. The video cannot be released to the public yet, Steenbeek said. 

After court, Baldwin told reporters she would like the person who filmed the assault to release the video to the family. 

“I think it needs to be shown, and people need to know that it does happen. And we were just lucky that it was on camera,” she said. 

Baldwin said the family wants to share the video to raise awareness about police brutality against Indigenous people.

A woman stands and speaks into microphones
Audrey Davis, Hamilton Regional Indian Centre’s executive director, offered recommendations to Hamilton police on Tuesday afternoon. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

At a press conference held outside the HPS central station Tuesday to raise awareness about the case, Hamilton Regional Indian Centre (HRIC) executive director Audrey Davis outlined recommendations for HPS officers to address police violence and discrimination.

Her recommendations include a third-party investigation into the assault, for HPS to consider charging Wren with a hate crime, investigating past alleged assaults on Tomchuk by HPS and for police to wear body cameras, among others. 

“This needs to stop. Education, prevention and accountability must be of the highest priority of law enforcement,” Davis said.

Outside of court Wednesday, Olga Tomchuk, Tomchuk’s mother, asked the person who took the video to come forward and contact Tomchuk’s family. 

“Your name won’t be mentioned,” Olga said. “I would like to thank you for taking that video.”

Tomchuck granted bail

From the May incident, Tomchuk has been charged with assault on a police officer, resisting arrest and vehicle theft and Wednesday’s hearing looked at whether he should be granted bail. 

Crown prosecutor Brian Adsett argued Tomchuk has a “horrendous record,” including multiple vehicle theft charges, fleeing police and a history of drug use, the latter of which Adsett said is a factor in his criminal activity. Arguing against granting bail, Adsett said Tomchuk has 27 convictions for breaches of court orders in his record.

Steenbeek, meanwhile, said she did not consider Tomchuk a flight risk, because of his family and community ties in Hamilton, and his quest for justice in his assault case against Wren. 

By Wednesday afternoon, Tomchuk was granted bail by court justice of the peace Linda Crawford. He will have to address outstanding charges in Niagara Falls and Barrie, Crawford said. 

When reading her decision, Crawford said she took Tomchuk’s identity as an Indigenous person and the effects of colonialism on Indigenous people into consideration. Such considerations are known as the Gladue principles, stemming from a 1999 Supreme Court decision. 

Crawford said Tomchuk has been very fortunate to have his family’s support throughout his history of arrests. 

‘I think he’s just tired of it’

Tomchuk’s mother Olga said the assault in the video isn’t the worst assault Tomchuk has received from Hamilton Police Services. 

According to Jessica Montana, the family’s contact at the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre (HRIC), Steenbeek has more information about another assault, but is unable to comment on it at this time. 

Steenbeek previously said an HPS officer had assaulted Tomchuk at least once before. HPS Chief Frank Bergen told CBC Hamilton the service is reviewing its files but so far haven’t found any documented cases of that happening. He also called the video “disturbing.”

On Wednesday, Tomchuk’s cousins Jessica Oneill and Laura Erie agreed to supervise Tomchuk while he is under house arrest. Oneill, Erie and Tomchuk will all be required to pay between $1,000 and $2,500 if Tomchuk breaks the conditions of his bail and flees. 

Both cousins said they were aware of Tomchuk’s issues with addiction prior to his arrest, and that they intend to get him “culturally appropriate help” through the HRIC. 

When asked by the Crown why this arrest would be different this time for Tomchuk, Oneill said, “At this point, he has a lot to look forward to. He does have children, and I think he’s just tired of it.” 

Tomchuk will be released into the joint supervision of Oneill and Erie. He will remain at Oneill’s residence, where Erie will supervise him while Oneill is at work. 

He will be required to wear a GPS monitor, will not be able to leave Oneill’s home without supervision from Oneill or Erie, and is not allowed to operate motor vehicles or sit in the driver’s seat of motor vehicles. 

Tomchuk’s next court date is Sept. 8, while Wren is due in court next on Aug. 18. 

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