UWO Arrest: Justified Arrest or Abuse of Power?

After learning of the arrest of University of Western Ontario student Irnes Zeljkovic on Wednesday October 14, 2009, I looked up The Toronto Star article which led me to two videos on YouTube.  The comments there, unfortunately, like always, are quite polarizing.  On one side, there are those who think that the police were well within their rights to arrest an actively resisting suspect, and there are those who feel that the police are overstepping the boundary and are assaulting Mr. Zeljkovic.  After looking at all the available information, I am firmly in the middle of these two views.

I am fortunate enough to be able to dissect this video from the perspective of a former police officer.

After viewing the video a number of times, it is quite plain to see that Mr. Zeljkovic is actively resisting, and on more than one occasion the police give the command of “stop resisting” while also saying that he is under arrest.  While the desired effect of telling somebody to stop resisting should in theory provide a warning (if you will), the end result is usually that both officer and suspect are both entrenched in their positions.

I would like to strongly state that the following is only MY view of the video.  However, what people who post comments on YouTube often fail to understand, is that when a problem has escalated to the point where physical intervention is necessary and the videos start rolling, they have missed some of the most crucial parts of deescalation that officers have at their disposal.  The head of UWO Campus Police, Elgin Austen stated that the officers are trained in accordance with the standards of the Ontario Police College, which is true.  Having been a graduate of that institution myself, I have a pretty good idea of what is taught there.  When it comes to physically intervening with a suspect, a “use of force wheel” is referenced and the officer will make an appropriate (not always though) decision.

(This use of force wheel is from The Braidwood Inquiry which was launched in connection to the death of a Polish Citizen via RCMP officers who used Conductive Energy Weapons (CEW/Tasers) at the Vancouver Airport.)

After having viewed the video, and from my experiences and past training, I see NO REASON why one of the officers applied force to the middle and upper portions of Mr. Zeljkovic’s back and neck with his asp baton.  Officers are trained to specifically NOT to use this hard impact weapon on areas where significant damage could be caused (i.e. neck, forearms, and head) because of the risk to the suspect.  While an actively resisting suspect is a very dynamic situation, in my humble opinion this exceeded the appropriate options available to this officer.

In the end if there is an investigation regarding the officers actions that will be remain to be seen.  However, what needs to be taken away from this situation is not what led to Mr. Zeljkovic’s arrest, and not the actions of police in general, but the actions of one officer, and what can be learned from the situation to prevent such incidents from happening in the future.

About the Author

Ryan Venables
Ryan Venables is a third year law student at the University of Western Ontario. He holds B.A. (2001) from the University of Western Ontario in Political Science and Sociology. Ryan was also enrolled in a M.A.- Journalism at the University of Western Ontario before withdrawing to attend law school. Before pursuing a formal education in law, Ryan served with the York Regional Police as a police officer for five years specializing in organized crime. He also served in the Special Investigations Section with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for two years. His legal interests include employment/labour, criminal, family, and human rights law. When Ryan is done law school he will be articling with Ross & McBride LLP in Hamilton, Ontario.

8 Comments on "UWO Arrest: Justified Arrest or Abuse of Power?"

  1. I just wanted to thank you for your opinion. I attend the university and after watching this video and doing as much review of articles etc I was still confused as to what was “appropriate”. I needed a little more help and you provided that. So thanks.

  2. Not a problem. I am probably as pro-police as anybody, but when I saw this video, I instantly thought “oh no.” I understand what it is like to get caught up in the moment, especially when you are dealing with an escalated and violent suspect. But to step beyond what is “reasonable” in inexcusable.

    I won’t make any comment to what should happen, but as I said in the article, I hope that something can be learned from this.

    I have other views on the future of Campus Police and whether they should really be called a “police” agency, but I’ll save that for another posting.

  3. Derick McName | October 15, 2009 at 11:48 pm |

    Very brave of you to speak up about this, Ryan. Thanks for your perspective. I hope this doesn’t make you a target.

  4. I don’t think it has anything to do with being brave. It’s pretty plain to see what was going on there, nor do I think this will make me a target, if it does, well that’s unfortunate. I’m very pro-police, I just think this one act was a little over the top.

    I just wrote my opinion, you and I have gone through the proper training on what is reasonable, that clearly (from the video angle) isn’t.

    I also firmly believe that there was NOTHING wrong with the knee, and close fist strikes on this suspect, I only have a problem with the baton use.

  5. I have watched this video a few times and wondered if excited delirium was maybe a factor as it appeared that the male was feeling no pain even with the baton hits. I realize that most of the blows were to get the male to get his hands behind his back but he put up a good fight even with two officers on top of him

  6. Excited delirium in my experiences would fit well with the way that he was reacting. Although does not excuse the placement of the baton strikes. If anything it adds more to how poor of a choice it was. If the UWO Campus Police are trained at all in this type of incident, the officer would have been fully aware of the fact that somebody who is exhibiting signs of excited delirium would be pretty much immune to baton blows regardless of placement of them (only to a point though).

    In that vein, it goes to show that it was an even more ineffective choice on his part.

    It is very difficult to get somebody under control who really wants nothing to do with your attempts. I maintain, that there is nothing wrong with amount of force used against him, nor does the quantity of officers make a difference, it was simply the choice to use the baton.

    Mike, even if he was just “high” on adrenaline, he probably wouldn’t feel anything. It is only after the “fight” is done, do most people suffer from an adrenaline dump, and that is when people often become medically distressed… regardless of whether they’re suffering from excited delirium or just the increase in adrenaline from such a confrontation.

    Thanks for the comment.

  7. I have other views on the future of Campus Police and whether they should really be called a “police” agency, but I’ll save that for another posting.

  8. Thankfully some bloggers can write. Thank you for this blog post!

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