By Lloyd Dolha
The BC Civil Liberties Association is calling for an independent investigation into an “alleged” assault on teenage Aboriginal girl by a member of the Williams Lake detachment of the RCMP. Martina Jeff, mother of 17 year-old Jamie Haller, says her daughter was punched in the face by a local RCMP constable while handcuffed in the back of a police car after her daughter had called the local RCMP for assistance.
According to a complaint filed by Martina, her daughter Jessica phoned around 11:15 on the evening of September 10th saying she was being chased by a local gang known as the Indian Outlaws near a schoolyard. Jessica told her mom that she had asked for help from some “white lady” who called the police for her. Martina Jeff and 12 year-old daughter Loretta Jeff-Combs drove out to look for Jessica and saw a number of police cars with flashing lights on Western Avenue. “I saw Jamie lying on the ground crying and handcuffed. I got out and ran towards her. She was having a panic attack. She is very small and has never been in trouble with the police before,” stated Martina.
The police surrounded Martina. When she tried to speak with her daughter, one of the officers said, “She’s going to the cells tonight.” Martina then watched as two officers grabbed her daughter and threw her into the police cruiser. When Jessica started yelling for her mother and kicking the window, Martina asked if she could talk to her and was told to stay back. “I heard one say, ‘Keep kicking and you’ll see what happens,’” stated Martina. According to her statement, two officers opened the rear doors, one on each side, and she saw Cst. Yung on the passenger side. “He put his whole upper body in the car and started punching. I was close enough to see the movement of his arms, as he was striking her. Cst. Yung stepped out and another officer said you can see her now.” Cst. Yung walked away “really fast” and Martina saw him “opening and closing his fists.” Her statement reads, “When I looked in the car, I saw my daughter. Her face started swelling really bad. There was blood coming down each side of her mouth.”
Jamie Haller was released the following morning without charge and without receiving medical attention. Her mother took her to the local emergency room for treatment. Jamie was unable to work due to her facial injuries and had to take a week off from school.
“The community needs confidence that these serious allegations will be investigated fully, promptly, and as impartially as possible under our current system,” said Robert Holmes, president of the BCCLA. “The community needs to trust that when someone calls 911 for the police, they will be treated with respect and not end up in the hospital because of injuries sustained due to police action.” A senior RCMP officer was initially appointed to investigate the incident, but the Abbotsford Police Department took over the investigation.
Leading Aboriginal groups expressed shock and outrage at the beating of the 17 year-old girl. The First Nations Summit (FNS), the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), the BC Assembly of First Nations, and the Native Courtworkers and Counseling Association of BC (NCCABC) all expressed outrage at the incident and called for a truly independent review of police conduct and have demanded that the Solicitor General of Canada consult with Aboriginal groups before appointing an independent investigator of police conduct. The NCCABC has received many complaints about the police and justice system in Williams Lake and are demanding a thorough review. “Governments must appoint individuals in whom we have faith and must ensure inquiries have the proper terms of reference and the necessary authority,” said Jody Wilson-Raybould, regional BAFN chief. Hugh Braker, president of the NCCABC said, “Having the police investigate themselves is not sufficient. We saw what happened in Prince George after the police tasered an 11-year-old Aboriginal child. A closed door investigation was done and a one sentence decision announced.” He added, “The Aboriginal community has no confidence in closed door, in house investigations. We are tired of RCMP investigating themselves or being investigated by other police.”
A 19 year-old Aboriginal male from Williams Lake died in the Prince George Regional Remand Centre in September, shortly after being transferred after his arrest in Williams Lake. “Far too many Aboriginal people die while in custody in BC,” said Chief Doug White of the First Nations Summit political executive. “For the Aboriginal public to maintain confidence in the system, there must be an independent inquiry into this death.” A recent study by the NCCABC has shown that the numbers of Aboriginal people dying in custody is grossly disproportionate than their non-Aboriginal counterparts. “There are clearly systemic issues at play, of which these deaths and beatings are only the tip of the iceberg and symptoms of a justice system gone horribly wrong,” added Chief White.