KELOWNA, B.C. — An outside police force recommended an assault charge Sunday against a British Columbia RCMP officer after a violent arrest that was caught on tape, announcing the decision about an hour before several hundred people rallied against “police brutality” in Kelowna.
The video showing a Mountie kicking Buddy Tavares in the face during an arrest on Jan. 7 in Kelowna has been fuelling anti-police sentiment in the city, prompting about 300 people to march from a local park to the RCMP detachment Sunday afternoon.
Abbotsford police, which have been investigating the arrest, took the unusual step of announcing their recommendation before a report had been submitted to Crown counsel.
Const. Ian MacDonald said the timing had nothing to do with Sunday’s rally.
“When both the media and the general public came to be aware of a rally, that probably would have been the best point in time to make the announcement if we were going to be guided by the rally or public opinion,” said MacDonald.
MacDonald said Abbotsford police investigators were finishing up their work in Kelowna, and the force issued Sunday’s news release to pre-empt obvious questions from the public when they returned to the Lower Mainland.
He said police had interviewed about 40 witnesses and examined the video, which has been widely broadcast and viewed thousands of times on YouTube.
“That video was a very compelling piece of evidence, we used it regularly,” he said. “But I don’t want to discount the eye witnesses, either. We were pleasantly surprised that we had the full support of residents of Kelowna.”
Crown counsel will have the final say on whether a charge will be laid.
Sunday’s protest was advertised on Facebook as a rally to “stop police brutality.” It lasted about 40 minutes and was peaceful, despite warnings from the RCMP that the demonstration could turn violent.
“People are sick and tired of that type of thing going on,” said organizer John Hewitson. “And people are sick and tired and don’t want to tolerate police being paid while they’re under investigation.”
While police haven’t named the Mountie involved, local media have widely reported that Const. Geoff Mantler was suspended with pay.
Tavares made a brief appearance at the rally. He said he’s fortunate his arrest was caught on tape, and called the experience “mindboggling.”
Tavares was arrested on Jan. 7 after a complaint about shots fired at a Kelowna-area golf course. Tavares has said his employer had asked him to use the gun to scare off geese.
A bystander’s video of the arrest shows Tavares, 51, getting out of his truck with his hands in the air as both officers have their guns drawn, and then one officer kicks Tavares in the face as he is getting on the ground.
When Tavares was released from custody, he had a black eye and several scrapes on his face.
Tavares is on leave from his job at the golf course while recovering from a brain injury suffered in a recent motorcycle crash. He has been charged with careless use of a firearm.
The arrest has prompted angry complaints from Kelowna residents in blogs, online postings and even to the Abbotsford police’s tip line.
The RCMP called a news conference on Saturday, asking the public to be patient as the investigation ran its course and urging calm at Sunday’s rally.
Supt. Bill McKinnon said he was concerned after reading online postings urging civil disobedience during the rally.