TORONTO – A young black man and his mother have launched a lawsuit against Toronto police and the city’s transit authority, alleging he was a victim of racial profiling when officers and fare inspectors pinned him to the ground on a streetcar platform earlier this year.
The 19-year-old – whose name has been withheld from legal documents to protect his privacy – claims in the suit that he experienced discrimination and harassment, was unlawfully detained, and suffered serious physical and psychological harm in the incident, which eventually ended with him being released without charge.
The man and his mother are seeking more than $3 million in damages from the Toronto Police Services Board, the Toronto Transit Commission, two unidentified police officers and three unidentified TTC fare inspectors.
“It’s a very disturbing matter,” the man’s lawyer, David Shellnutt, said of the February incident that was captured on video by at least one bystander. “To our understanding, he wasn’t doing much of anything other than trying to exit the streetcar.”
The TTC said it could not comment on the lawsuit but noted it had announced an investigation into the matter in February. One of the fare inspectors involved has been suspended with pay, pending the investigation’s outcome, the TTC said.
Toronto police are also investigating the incident, TTC spokesman Stuart Green said, adding that a report would be presented to the TTC board once all investigations were complete.
Toronto police declined to comment on the lawsuit, and would not say whether the incident had been referred to their professional standards unit or to the province’s Special Investigations Unit, which probes cases of serious injury, death or alleged sexual assault involving officers.
In his statement of claim accusing police and TTC staff of “high handed, shocking, contemptuous conduct,” the young man alleges the incident began when one or more fare inspectors grabbed him “suddenly and without warning” as he was about to get off a streetcar in midtown Toronto on Feb. 18.
The man was frightened and tried to leave the streetcar but three fare inspectors pushed him face-first into the concrete boarding platform outside the streetcar, the claim said.
The TTC employees then allegedly twisted and pinned down the young man’s left arm and held his right arm behind his back while kneeling, sitting on and holding his back and legs, according to the statement of claim.
“(He) was held in this position screaming in pain and screaming for help for an extended period of time,” the document alleges. “At no time did the … fare inspectors identify themselves to (him), indicate why he was being detained, respond to his cries for help, or provide medical services.”
Multiple police officers then arrived and “piled on” to the young man, the claim alleged, adding that officers eventually arrested him, handcuffed him and led him to a public area nearby where multiple police cruisers were parked.
Police officers knew the young man was hurt but “deliberately and/or negligently refrained from making the appropriate inquiries as to the cause and severity,” the claim said.
He was released without charge after about 30 or 40 minutes, the claim said.
Shellnutt and his co-counsel, Hugh Scher, said the young man suffered a concussion, scrapes on his face and a soft tissue injury to his left shoulder from being pinned to the ground.
The young man’s mother has incurred medical expenses and other out of pocket costs as a result of her son’s injuries and has lost income as a result of having to care for him, the claim said. Both the young man and his mother continue to suffer emotional and psychological trauma, the claim said.
The individual TTC employees and police officers are not named in the lawsuit because they have not yet been identified, the man’s lawyers noted.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.