A Toronto man who was wrongfully shot with “less lethal” gun rounds and apprehended by Vancouver Police in a case of mistaken identity is speaking out about his ordeal, in the hopes it won’t happen to others.
Elijah Barnett, who is hearing impaired, told Global News he was walking his friend’s dog in downtown Vancouver Wednesday afternoon near Pacific Boulevard and Richards Street.
“I remember walking out of the apartment building. And then the next thing I remember, I’m on the ground and I thought we were hit by a car,” said Barnett.
That is the moment he says he was swarmed by “numerous” police officers, arrested publicly and shot twice at close range with rubber bullets.
“It’s awful. You can’t do anything. You’ve got boots on your face and bodies holding you down and cuffs that are cutting your hands open. You couldn’t do anything. I was just screaming for help.”
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It took hours before police confirmed Barnett was not the suspect they were looking for.
According to the VPD, officers were acting on information that an armed and dangerous wanted man was in the area, and Barnett was released after getting medical attention.
The suspect in question was actually 47-year-old Dean Gallant, wanted Canada-wide and arrested near the B.C. Children’s Hospital later that same night, in connection to a violent home invasion in Calgary.
Barnett, who had headphones in at the time of his arrest and was not wearing his hearing aids, said he was taken by surprise and felt “humiliated” by the experience.
“They attacked me from behind. They were beating me as they were asking me questions. They took me down into a garden bed that had a metal fence going up. So I got an impact (on my torso) from that,” he said.
“They shot first and asked questions later. They didn’t approach me. Nobody approached me at all. I was just beaten and taken to the ground and interrogated while being beaten.”
He says he has been left traumatized and in pain, with bruises, cuts and scrapes all over his body, and is seeking counselling.
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The police have since repeatedly apologized, but to Barnett, there is “no justification” for what he went through.
“I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. I have mobility issues. I can’t really move my neck. I have nightmares. Being outside by myself is really a lot. I’ve never really had to feel so hyper-aware of my surroundings before and I can’t relax,” he said.
“I have no idea why they would think that I looked anything like this person. Because I look nothing like that … it’s boggling.”
He also didn’t have his identification on him, not thinking to bring it on the walk. When he tried to offer the pictures of his ID that he had sent Air Canada as an alternative, officers wouldn’t accept it.
The officers also asked about his tattoos, wondering how he covered them up so quickly. Barnett believes this is because his tattoos did not corelate with the person they were looking for.
“I pled with every bit of information about me and my family and everything I could give them. It was about an hour of detainment and assault before two hours of verification,” said Barnett.
“It was just face down on the street in front of everybody. It was terrifying.”
On Monday, police told Global News that their emergency response team was deployed due to the “high-risk nature” of the arrest, and that officers shot the person twice with rubber bullets from a “less-lethal” ARWEN gun.
The VPD have notified the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner, who have launched a professional conduct investigation into the matter.
“We believed the man we were arresting was that suspect. And we’d taken a number of steps to independently confirm the man we were arresting was that man,” VPD Sgt. Steve Addison told Global News on Monday. “It’s really an unfortunate set of circumstances.
“We’re asking the OPCC just to independently review all of the circumstances, to drill down a little bit more to find out exactly what happened, what could have been done differently and if anything could be improved on for next time.”
Depending on the result of the investigation into the action of the arresting officers, there could be more fallout, according to legal experts.
“The City of Vancouver could be liable for the actions of individual police officers,” said lawyer Kyle Bienvenu.
“The officers themselves are unlikely to be liable civilly unless they behave in a way that is determined to be grossly negligent. and the standard for that is much much higher,”
Barnett said he is in the process of hiring his own lawyer once he returns home from his visit to Vancouver, and intends to pursue charges against the officers. He is also following up with a medical professional in Toronto.
“I want (the officers) all charged with a violent crime, because that is exactly what it was. Violent assault. It was the most violence I have ever faced in my life,” he said.
—With files from Global’s Emad Agahi and Simon Little
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