As the Saskatchewan government prepares to release an inquiry report about alleged police brutality in Saskatoon, the city's embattled police department is facing yet another investigation that will examine accusations of excessive force.
Two witnesses say officers grabbed a handcuffed man and smashed his face into the back end of a police cruiser on Saturday, leaving the vehicle covered with blood. Their complaints aired on a local CTV news broadcast Wednesday night, prompting the force to announce that internal investigators will examine the case.
"You'd think after the inquiries and everything, these police would learn," said Jasmin Turner, 34, who watched the incident from across the street. "But obviously they didn't."
In less than two weeks, Saskatchewan's Justice Department is scheduled to release the results of an inquiry into the freezing death of Neil Stonechild, one of several natives who were allegedly picked up by police and dumped on the outskirts of the city on cold winter nights.
Police spokesman Inspector Jeff Bent said he could not say much about what happened Saturday evening because the details will be aired in court.
But he confirmed that police arrived at an apartment building in a rough neighbourhood of southeast Saskatoon shortly before 9 p.m., responding to somebody who had asked police to "check on the welfare of three young children."
The officers arrested a 37-year-old man. He was charged with assaulting police and with two counts of mischief after the rear window of a cruiser was broken and a doorway damaged at Royal University Hospital where he was treated for injuries and released.
The question of why the man was injured will be examined by the Saskatoon Police Department's internal investigations team, under the oversight of the Saskatchewan Police Complaints Investigator in Regina.
"We're getting conflicting stories about this," Insp. Bent said.
In the version from Ms. Turner and another witness, Ivan Halyk, 37, officers brought the handcuffed man out of the building and pushed him against the cruiser as though they were about to search him.
Mr. Halyk said he looked out the window of his second-floor apartment when he heard somebody shouting obscenities.
He saw a thin man leaning over the trunk of a cruiser parked across the street, with his hands restrained behind his back. The man was shoved hard against the car, he said.
"His head hit the back window," Mr. Halyk said.
Ms. Turner saw it slightly differently from the floor above Mr. Halyk. She said the man's face hit the trunk, not the window. But either way, both witnesses said the man started bleeding and screaming.
"He was going, 'My face, my face, my face,' " Mr. Halyk said.
It was a clear, cool evening, roughly two hours after sunset, and neither witness said they had been drinking. But a police source said three other neighbours have called the local CrimeStoppers tip line to offer a different version of the events.
The source said the three officers did not have the man under control at first.
"He was kicking around. He was all over the place, so they had to tackle him."
Whether or not the officers are ultimately found to have used too much force, the incident has already added to the feeling among some Saskatoon police officers that they cannot shake the accusations that have dogged them for years.
"Our police still struggle against that God-awful reputation," said Jim Maddin, a former Saskatoon officer who tried to reform the force during his stint as mayor.
Stan Goertzen, president of the Saskatoon City Police Association, said the union is thinking about launching a more vigorous legal defence of its reputation. If complaints about police turn out to be false or frivolous, he said, the union will consider pressing criminal charges for mischief, or pursuing civil litigation. "We'll do that if somebody has lied about us," he said.