Police officer cleared of misconduct after repeatedly hitting 15-year-old boy in head
(OTTAWA CITIZEN) An Ottawa police officer who hit a 15-year-old boy in the head several times during an arrest in a darkened Rockcliffe Park Public School yard has been cleared of misconduct after a review concluded the constable used “accepted” standards for use of force.
The Office of the Independent Police Review Director, a provincial agency composed entirely of civilians, launched its investigation after the boy’s mother complained her son had allegedly been beaten by Const. Thomas McFadden around 10:30 p.m. on May 28, 2010, a Friday night.
The review board said there was an ‘abundant body of evidence that makes it clear that (the boy) was struck … several times, although the number of times is not clear. The blows were in the form of strikes by Officer McFadden’s left hand and in at least one instance, by (another officer’s) knee. The forensic report supports that (the boy) was struck at least three times in the face.”
While the probe couldn’t figure out how many times McFadden hit the boy, it is known that the officer broke his left hand — the hand he used to strike the boy in the head.
The trouble began just before 10:30 on the night in question. There had been complaints about mischief at the school yard weeks earlier, so Ottawa police set up a four-officer surveillance team.
The team included two plainclothes officers, one of whom wore shorts and a backwards ballcap, a sergeant, and an officer positioned inside the school, which is known for educating the children of diplomats and politicians, including those of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Someone on the covert police team spotted boys throwing paint balls at the school and trying to light a newspaper on fire in the yard. That’s when they moved in.
They shouted that they were Ottawa police, but the 15-year-old boy, who had no criminal record, didn’t believe they were police officers, so he ran away.
That’s when McFadden, a tactical officer in the ByWard Market, decided to chase the boy, and managed to tackle him.
It’s not certain, according to the report, whether the boy first fell and tried to get up again while being grounded, but McFadden ended up on the boy’s back. The boy landed face-down with his arms pinned beneath him.
The boy and witnesses say he wasn’t resisting.
The police officer, however, said otherwise, and told investigators that he kept hitting the boy as a “distraction” — meaning that if he hit the boy in the head it would distract the boy enough to get his hands out so he could be cuffed, arrested for loitering and assaulting an officer.
One civilian witness who was interviewed by the independent review board said he also was not able to identify the men as police officers.
“I could not see any form of badge nor did they present any to me while at Rockcliffe Park School that night. … Before they reached (the 15-year-old boy), however, he ran … One of the men said, ‘We’ve got a runner.’
“Both men ran after him and tackled him to the ground … They were hitting (him) on the face, head and neck. They were asking him to put out his hands; however, when he tried to bring them forward the men would hit him more.
“(The boy) was trying to get his hands out when asked and he was trying to cover his face to get them to stop hitting him. The men kept asking (the boy) to put out his hands. (The boy) told them, ‘I’m trying, so stop hitting me,’ according to the witness statement in the investigation report obtained by the Citizen.
“Once (the boy’s) hands were cuffed, one of the officers put his knee on (the boy’s) neck and hit him one more time. I remember one of the officers asking (the boy) ‘How old are you? 13 or 14?’”
McFadden and another police officer told the investigators, one of whom was a former police officer, that the boy’s elbow hit the officer as he swung around to run.
Civilian witnesses did not recall that detail.
In the 45-second struggle to arrest the boy, McFadden recalled intimate details of his thoughts at the time. The officer told investigators he thought the boy, lying beneath two officers with knees on his back, was trying to reach for a gun or knife.
McFadden also recalled that during the seconds-long struggle he was thinking about Const. Eric Czapnik, the police officer who was knifed to death outside the Ottawa Hospital in 2009.
The police review board also couldn’t figure out if McFadden was swearing at the boy — a detail found in civilian witness statements.
The boy says the police review agency twisted the facts to clear the officer who beat him.
Photographs taken on the night in question show severe bruising on his face. The boy fielded plenty of questions at school, the worst of which were if he had been beaten by one of his parents.
“They were shocked to hear that it was a police officer who had beaten me so badly,” the boy told the Citizen.
The boy’s identity is shielded by law because the officer in question ended up charging him with several alleged crimes, ranging from mischief to assaulting a police officer.
The Citizen has learned that the boy was only charged with assaulting a police officer after his mother complained to police.
“It is stressful dealing with the court situation and being falsely accused of assaulting an officer, when I was the only one who was physically attacked that night. …
“Mainly it’s been upsetting that as the person beaten by the police, I am now the only one charged and the cops and the OIPRD only seem interested in supporting each other in not holding Const. MacFadden responsible for his actions of violence towards me,” the boy said in a statement.
McFadden could not be reached for comment but weeks after the police review was completed on April 1, the officer’s supervisor told the press that the findings “completely exonerated” him.
Those press reports were written without any access to the actual investigative report, the subject of the news articles.
The investigators who cleared the officer did not interview the doctor who treated the boy. That doctor’s report, obtained by the Citizen, details the boy’s story of being assaulted by police, and notes his physical injuries — including a teeth impression on his shoulder.
A forensic pathologist, who reviewed photographs of the boy’s injuries for the police review reported: “The teeth impression superimposed on the band of bruise over his left shoulder along with abrasions noted by the ER physician over his right knee and right wrist region, were in keeping with him having sustained as a result of a struggle with the officers at the time of restraint.”
Both constables involved in the arrest of the boy acknowledged strikes to the young prisoner. In their account, the boy was not hit after being handcuffed.
An officer, positioned inside the school as a lookout, brought four typed pages of notes to her interview with police-review investigators, and said she did not see the officers “deliver any blows to” the boy.
The officer “clearly” recalled that McFadden’s badge could be seen, dangling from his neck.
But she acknowledged to investigators that she typed up her notes a week before the interview, and from memory.
Her actual notes from the night in question offer no detail beyond the names of the youths, according to the police-review report.
That report not only cleared McFadden of excessive force claims, but said he would have also been authorized to use a baton or pepper spray on the boy had he wanted to.
The boy’s trial on charges he assaulted police is scheduled for later this year so none of the charges against him have been proven in court.