The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner will oversee an internal investigation by the Vancouver Police Department after video surfaced showing an officer punching a cyclist in the face.
The incident happened Tuesday night, when police officers stopped cyclist Andishae Akhavan and ticketed him for allegedly running a red light at the intersection of Robson and Beatty streets.
A 39-second video posted to YouTube the next day shows Mr. Akhavan being handcuffed by two officers. He turns slightly and asks, “What is this for?” The officer handcuffing him does not reply. A few seconds later, Mr. Akhavan moves his arm and again turns slightly, appearing to say, “Yo, I don’t think – ” when the arresting officer suddenly strikes him in the jaw with a closed fist.
Moments later, as the officer orders Mr. Akhavan to have a seat on the curb, Mr. Akhavan asks why the officer punched him.
“Because you [were] resisting,” the officer replies.
Mike Schwarz, a friend of Mr. Akhavan’s who filmed the incident, said he was driving home when he saw his friend being questioned by the officers. “Their body language made it look fairly serious, so I quickly parked my car and ran over to the scene,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “I heard about 10 seconds of conversation before I got the video rolling.”
Mr. Schwarz said Mr. Akhavan had been arguing with police over the ticket, at one point calling it “bullshit.” The punch resulted in a bloodied lip.
Deputy Police Complaint Commissioner Rollie Woods called the video “concerning,” but noted it’s not yet clear what happened before the camera started recording.
“I don’t know what the interaction with police was, or what [Mr. Akhavan’s] background is, or anything like that that would have led police to handcuff him,” Mr. Woods said. “They may very well have had good reason to do it. I don’t know, but that’s what the investigation will tell us. But certainly, looking at the video, it’s certainly concerning to see the fellow get punched like that.”
The OPCC will also be looking into why the police watchdog learned of the incident through the media and not the police. “It seems to me the senior people in the police department should have been aware of this,” Mr. Woods said.
As of Thursday afternoon, the OPCC had received 11 complaints from the public about the incident.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association said it will be following the investigation and its results closely.
“We are alarmed by the video showing a VPD officer punching Andishae Akhavan in the face, resulting in a cut lip, while being detained,” police director Micheal Vonn said in a statement. “The officer alleges that Mr. Akhavan was resisting arrest, but this is unclear in the video that we have seen. While the police have the power to use reasonable force, if needed, in carrying out their duties, the video leads to questions as to whether this punch was an unnecessary and violent overreaction.”