WARNING: This story contains disturbing details
Patrick Tomchuk was violently arrested in May, video shown in court and viewed by CBC Hamilton. Hamilton Police Services (HPS) Const. Brian Wren has been charged with assault following the incident.
Tomchuk’s attorney, Jennifer Steenbeek, showed the video during Tomchuck’s bail hearing, held Wednesday at the John Sopinka Courthouse.
Tomchuck is an Aboriginal who was arrested on May 26 for vehicle theft at a gas station in the Mountain.
“He was unconscious and they kept stomping on his head,” Tomchuk’s sister Dhelia Baldwin said, adding that the video made her stomach hurt.
In the video, several officers are seen tackling Tomchuk between gas station pumps. Officers appear to be forcibly maneuvering the man, while shouting profanities at him, before one officer kicks Tomchuk in the head, then repeatedly presses his head into the pavement with his foot.
Tomchuk appears to be unconscious for most of the video.
Before the video was shown in court, Tomchuk’s children were asked to leave the room. Tomchuk’s family members who remained, including his mother, sister and cousins, cried upon seeing 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 confidentially to Tomchuk’s attorney by a passerby who witnessed the incident. The video cannot yet be made public, Steenbeek said.
After court, Baldwin told reporters she would like whoever filmed the assault to release the video to the family.
“I think it needs to be shown and people need to know it’s happening. And we were lucky it got caught on camera,” she said.
Baldwin said the family wanted to share the video to raise awareness about police brutality against Indigenous people.
At a press conference outside HPS Central Station on Tuesday to raise awareness of the case, Hamilton Regional Indian Center (HRIC) Executive Director Audrey Davis presented recommendations to officers of the HPS to combat police violence and discrimination.
His recommendations include a third-party investigation into the assault, for HPS to consider charging Wren with a hate crime, investigation of past alleged assaults on Tomchuk by HPS, and for police to wear body cameras, among others.
“This has to stop. Education, prevention and accountability must be the top priority for law enforcement,” Davis said.
Outside court on Wednesday, Olga Tomchuk, Tomchuk’s mother, asked the person who took the video to come forward and contact Tomchuk’s family.
“Your name will not be mentioned,” Olga said. “I would like to thank you for taking this video.”
Tomchuck was released on bail
Since the May incident, Tomchuk has been charged with assaulting a police officer, resisting arrest and stealing a vehicle and Wednesday’s hearing considered whether he should be released on bail.
Crown prosecutor Brian Adsett claimed Tomchuk had an “appalling record” including multiple charges of theft of a vehicle, absconding from police and a history of drug use, the latter factor being, according to Adsett, a factor in his criminal activity. Opposing bail, Adsett said Tomchuk had 27 convictions for breaching court orders on file.
Steenbeek, meanwhile, said she does not consider Tomchuk a flight risk, due to her family and community ties to Hamilton and her pursuit of justice in her assault case against Wren.
On Wednesday afternoon, Tomchuk was released on bail by Justice of the Peace Linda Crawford. He will have to settle outstanding charges in Niagara Falls and Barrie, Crawford said.
When reading her decision, Crawford said she took into consideration Tomchuk’s identity as an Indigenous person and the effects of colonialism on Indigenous peoples. These considerations are known as the Gladue Principles, stemming from a 1999 Supreme Court decision.
Crawford said Tomchuk has been very lucky to have his family’s support throughout his history of arrests.
“I think he’s just fed up”
Tomchuk’s mother, Olga, said the assault in the video was not the worst assault Tomchuk has received from Hamilton Police Services.
According to Jessica Montana, the family’s contact at the Hamilton Regional Indian Center (HRIC), Steenbeek has more information about another assault, but is unable to comment on it at this time.
Steenbeek previously said an HPS officer assaulted Tomchuk at least once before. HPS chief Frank Bergen told CBC Hamilton that the service is reviewing its records, but has so far found no documented cases of it. 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 have to pay between $1,000 and $2,500 if Tomchuk breaches the terms of his bail and flees.
The two cousins said they were aware of Tomchuk’s substance abuse issues before his arrest and intended to get him “culturally appropriate help” through HRIC.
When asked by the Crown why this arrest would be any different this time for Tomchuk, Oneill said, “At this point he has a lot to look forward to. He has kids and I think he’s just fed up.”
Tomchuk will be released under the joint supervision of Oneill and Erie. He will stay at Oneill’s residence, where Erie will supervise him while Oneill is at work.
He will be required to wear a GPS monitor, may not leave Oneill’s home without Oneill’s or Erie’s supervision, and is not permitted to drive motor vehicles or sit in the driver’s seat of motor vehicles.
Tomchuk’s next court date is September 8, while Wren is scheduled to appear on August 18.