BLACK YOUTH ARRESTED IN MISTAKEN IDENTITY CASE ACQUITTED OF OBSTRUCTION CHARGE
Montreal, June 18, 2014 --- Mr. Mark Wiles Simpson, the then 19-year-old Black McDonalds’ worker who was violently arrested nearly two years ago by the Montreal Police near Côte-Vertu metro and charged with obstruction of justice in a case of “Any Negro Will Do”, was acquitted two days ago in Montreal Municipal Court.
In October 2012, Mr. Wiles Simpson was on his way to his work in Ville St-Laurent, a West-end district of Montreal, when he bumped into his 16-year old cousin. Both youths were sitting in a park in front of the McDonald’s and talking when a police car arrived. A white female officer with black gloves walked towards the two youths and told them to leave. As Mr. Wiles Simpson followed his cousin, without knowing what was going on, a total of four officers jumped on him and wrestled him to the ground. They punched and choked him, and twisted one of his legs as he lay face down. He was then handcuffed, pushed into a police vehicle, in front of his cousin and other youths, and hauled away.
It was only when he was detained in the police car that he was told of the reason for his arrest: that he fit the description of a Black male who stole at a local liquor store. After the arrest, the officers viewed the liquor store video and realized that they got the wrong man; Mr. Wiles-Simpson was released. However, the police still charged him on the spot with obstruction of justice.
During the trial which lasted almost a year and a half, the police officers involved provided inconsistent and contradictory accounts of their intervention. The officers described Mr. Wiles Simpson as attempting to flee when asked to stay put and told that he was under investigative detention; they also testified that he struggled and refused to comply with their orders.
Mr. Wiles Simpson, his cousin and another friend who videotaped a large part of the arrest, provided a very different picture of how he was quickly intercepted, grabbed and physically thrown to the ground, without any specific order or explanation. Most of the arrest was captured on video:
On the basis of these testimonies, the trial judge declared the youths’ versions more credible and concluded that due to the police officers’ “precipitation” in arresting him and language communication problems, the prosecution failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Wiles Simpson intentionally committed the infraction. The acquittal was thus inevitable, according to the Court.
The trial judge did refer to the fact that the police operated on the basis of the description of one of the two suspects, “a bigger black male.”
It should also be noted that the Quebec Legal Aid Commission turned down his application for legal aid, despite the fact that he was eligible, because it deemed that there was little or no risk of imprisonment if found guilty. In fact, he was told to plead guilty to the charge and do community service.
Mr. Wiles Simpson is represented in his defense by Ms. Émilie Le-Huy, a CRARR associated lawyer. He is assisted by CRARR for his civil rights and police ethics complaints, the prospect of which is now enhanced by the acquittal. In the civil rights complaint, CRARR is claiming $40,000 in moral and punitive damages on his behalf from the City of Montreal and asking that the Montreal Police service review its policy and operational procedures regarding the use of race-based suspect description.
Vague race-based suspect description, or the police practice of “Any Negro Will Do”, has been flagged by CRARR since 2009 as a serious civil rights issue that exposes most often Black males to dangerous and even lethal police interventions as a result of errors caused by incomplete and imprecise suspect physical description. To this day, law enforcement and human rights agencies in Quebec still resist the acknowledgement of this practice and its and consequences on the security and dignity of racialized men.