Benjamin Manuel, a Dene man from Fort Good Hope who lives in Yellowknife, says an RCMP officer assaulted him and stomped on his face one day after an anti-racism protest in the city.
Manuel told Cabin Radio he was walking home on Wednesday evening when police “just picked me up, beat me up, and threw me to the side of the road” behind Kim’s Confectionery, on the corner of Franklin Ave and 54 St.
He said his uncle, as well as his partner Dorothy May Betsaka, were with him at the time.
“We saw him laying outside the Kim’s convenience store all bleeding. You literally could see the boot-print on his face,” Betsaka said.
Chief Superintendent Jamie Zettler, commanding officer of NWT RCMP, said the assault allegations came to the detachment’s attention through a Facebook post and they have “reached out to the gentleman.”
“We appreciate it has been brought to our attention and we will follow up, but we need to know what the information is – what occurred – before we can make any statements,” he told reporters at a news conference on Friday.
Zettler stopped short of saying an internal investigation had been launched.
He also could not confirm whether RCMP had any record of an incident matching the description given by Manuel.
Manuel named one officer he believes was involved in Wednesday’s incident, who he claims has harassed him in the past.
Zettler did not confirm whether an RCMP officer with that name is employed in Yellowknife. Court documents, however, do cite an RCMP constable by that name. Manuel is currently facing one charge of resisting arrest by that officer for allegedly walking away from him in December 2019.
No allegations have been proven in court.
‘I’m really upset’
A photo of Manuel following Wednesday’s incident shared by his employer, Michael Fatt, shows significant bruising to Manuel’s face.
Fatt oversees the Common Ground program, run by the Yellowknife Women’s Society. It gives people experiencing homelessness in Yellowknife employment through jobs like landscaping and cleaning.
“We’re trying to develop a program that provides positive steps,” Fatt said. “They don’t seem to grasp that concept. The RCMP don’t give you any consideration whatsoever, you’re just a Native or somebody that’s homeless.
“I’m really upset about this when they just did Black Lives Matter, right, the protest?” Fatt added. “[Manuel] says he didn’t know what was going on – he turns around and the next thing you know, the guy boots him in the face.
“It’s right across his whole face. I don’t know. I’m just choked. You’re trying to give these guys a chance, they are doing something for themselves. And the RCMP don’t help you.”
Calls for body cameras
Fatt said Manuel had been employed by Common Ground for almost a year. He and Manuel both told APTN that Manuel had just left work and was sober on Wednesday evening.
“He’s been one of my best guys, one of my steady guys,” Fatt told Cabin Radio.
Fatt wants the incident to be investigated as a human rights violation and demanded that RCMP begin using body cameras. More broadly, he called for such body camera footage to be released publicly and for footage from RCMP cells to be regularly reviewed by an independent body.
The national RCMP commissioner has said RCMP are working with national policing partners on a broader rollout of body cameras.
A witness to Wednesday’s incident, who asked not to be named, said he believed Manuel had been arguing with some other people before police arrived.
The witness saw RCMP reach the scene but had no view of what transpired at the time Manuel alleges he was assaulted.
Betsaka said she went with Manuel to the hospital to get treatment for his injuries on Wednesday evening. They left before that could happen, however, as she said hospital staff threatened to take her phone away and call police after she began filming them and asked how long Manuel would have to wait for treatment.
The NWT’s health authority did not respond to Cabin Radio’s questions regarding those allegations by the time of publication.
Manuel’s allegation of assault comes at a time when the actions of police across the globe, and particularly in North America, are under increased scrutiny.
Sarah Pruys contributed reporting.