Violent arrest of student at University of Western Ontario splashed on YouTube

Officials at the University of Western Ontario in this southwestern Ontario city are defending the violent arrest of a student captured on a video circulating on YouTube.

University of Western Ontario campus police officers punch and restrain Irnes Zeljkovic in this image taken from a video posted on YouTube.

University of Western Ontario campus police officers punch and restrain Irnes Zeljkovic in this image taken from a video posted on YouTube.

LONDON, Ont. — A startling video of a University of Western Ontario student being pummelled by half-a-dozen police officers drew condemnation from some of the tens of thousands of people who watched it online Thursday as school officials defended what they called a necessary use of force.

The one minute and 32 second video, posted on YouTube, shows the student being held down in a campus building hallway Wednesday. Campus police and officers from the London, Ont., force are seen kneeing the student aggressively in the torso, repeatedly beating him on the back with batons and punching him hard.

At least one officer is heard yelling “Stop resisting,” and then, “Give us your arm.”

Many in the online community reacted to the stark images with horror and anger, and the school’s student council said some students were expressing concern that such a violent takedown occurred in their halls. But the school warned that the video does not tell the whole story.

The student, identified by London police as 22-year-old Irnes Zeljkovic, was “creating safety concerns” and had barricaded himself inside a room, said Elgin Austen, the head of campus police.

The incident began on the seventh and eighth floors of the social sciences building, well before the video was shot, and “eventually, everything came down to the main floor,” where efforts were made to subdue a “disoriented individual,” he said.

“What the officers were doing was trying to apprehend a strong individual … and not injure that person and keep other people around safe,” said Austen, who added he didn’t see “anything out of order” with the level of force.

“It was being conducted consistent with the Ontario Police College and the training that officers have there.”

While the video is “disturbing” the incident needs to be kept in context, said university spokeswoman Gitta Kulczycki.

The main concern of police was protecting students and faculty, she said.

“The view of the video itself is somewhat disturbing without knowing the context of the full situation.”

Zeljkovic, described as about 6 foot 2 inches and more than 200 pounds, was taken to hospital for observation, then released into custody.

The London, Ont., resident was charged with mischief under $5,000, assaulting a peace officer, resisting arrest and escaping lawful custody and was released after a court appearance Thursday.

The incident has raised concerns among students at the school, student council spokeswoman Carolyn Hawthorn said in an interview.

“Students are reacting to what they’ve seen on the video and most are reacting with concern,” Hawthorn. “We’re encouraging students to review all the facts and to seek out the full information.”

No students have come forward to say they’re worried about their personal safety, said Hawthorn, who added it’s clear the video doesn’t tell the whole story.

The video had received more than 32,000 hits on YouTube by late-Thursday afternoon. Most postings criticized police for their use of force.

One comment posted on YouTube from mitchkocz03 writes “homeboy got Rodney King’d” — a reference to the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police in 1991, an incident also caught on video that triggered riots in the city.

Another identified as teenager17 said, “I agree, this looks frighteningly reminiscent of the Rodney King beating, though it probably didn’t go on for as long.”

Another viewer wrote: “After watching it several times, there’s little doubt in my mind that the police used excessive force.”

“There’s no way that five cops should have to use the amount of excessive force they did to ’detain’ this person. To take out a billyclub and senselessly beat someone you have pinned down seems completely unnecessary!” wrote dpoe89.

Still, others in the online community said they felt police were within their rights.

“The same people who will cry here about cops using some kind of force are the same morons who will ask ’where were the cops when the guy went crazy?’ Smazz104 wrote on YouTube.

“Cops did their job.”

A spokeswoman for the province’s Special Investigations Unit, which probes incidents involving serious injury or death to members of the public involving the police, said the unit is not investigating the incident.

Kulczycki said the school conducts an automatic review in situations like these.

“We will certainly co-operate fully with London police as that occurs,” she said.