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Heavy-handed arrest and mistaken identity, an Ottawa man in search of justice

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Kane Niyondagara claims he was handcuffed, searched and put into a police car. The police admitted mistaken identity.

  • Charles Lalande (View profile)Charles Lalande

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A young Ottawa man filed a complaint with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director after being arrested on February 16 due to mistaken identity. Ottawa police admitted the mistaken identity.

Originally from Burundi, a country in East Africa, Kane Niyondagara was leaving a Starbucks on Innes Road in the morning when he heard sirens.

He says he turned around and saw police officers with guns pointed at him. They ordered him to raise his hands. He claims to have obeyed.

Put- you on your knees, a policewoman allegedly told him.

But Kane Niyondagara, a young man of 27, with no prior judicial, had done nothing wrong. So he lowered his hands and shrugged his shoulders, pretending to ask why?. He looked at the sidewalk at his feet. He says he was afraid of being suddenly stopped on the ground against the cement.

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They kept screaming […] Since I was really scared, I didn't move. I just waited, he explained.

He waited until a police officer got too close. He then started running.

When asked why did he run away?, the main subject adheres to the theory of his parents, who suggested that it could have come from his upbringing in Burundi, a country ruled by an oppressive regime.

In our country, when we see a police officer or a soldier, the first reaction is to flee. It's better to run or hide to avoid getting shot, commented his mother, Ernestine.

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Beyond the physical injuries, the events also caused him emotional injuries.

The Ottawa Police Service (OPS) has released very few details about the events, or what followed, beyond the fact that it was a case of mistaken identity. The 27-year-old man was ultimately released unconditionally after a foot chase.

He alleges having been shocked with a taser, slammed to the ground, punched in the face and handcuffed before the police realized their mistake. Part of the scene was filmed by a witness, who forwarded the video to CBC.

These events are comes less than a month after a report found that Ottawa police used disproportionate force against Black and Middle Eastern people in 2022.

Kane Niyondagara also believes that the color of his skin may have played an important role in the way the police treated him that day. He tells his story today because he wants justice to be done.

During his race, he remembers being stopped by police officers who threatened him, he says, with using their electric shock gun if he did not stop. I replied: "why? Why me taser? Qu 'did I do?" and no one told me anything, he protests.

He remembers being turned around and felt a sharp pain in the back. He nevertheless had the strength to continue his race towards his house.

Zak Boudreau, who lives nearby, claims to have seen what happened next.

J' heard sirens, looked out the window and saw a police car stopping. There was a man walking with his hands in the air [and] the police pushed him to the ground, Mr. Boudreau said.

He then had the reflex to take his phone and film the scene.

In the twenty-second video, we can see three police officers on a man. We see one of them push his knee into the man’s back. He starts again at least twice. A fourth police officer then enters the frame of the video and forces the man to bury his face in the snow.

Kane Niyondagara said he had difficulty breathing with so many knees pressed into his back. He adds that the snow only made things worse, as his face was buried in the frozen ground.

M. Niyondagara claims he was shocked further with a taser while on the ground, although Boudreau's brief video does not show this.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">The police did not want to confirm or deny to our CBC colleagues that their officers had used conducted energy weapons during the pursuit and arrest.

However, in a report from Ottawa paramedics of which CBC obtained a copy, paramedics confirmed some of these details.

The police officer chased the patient and ended up tasering him with a taser in the back, but the probes did not enter correctly, we can read in the report, which does not specify where the weapon was used or how many times it was used.

The same report also confirms much of Mr. Boudreau's description and events in his video. The witness said he saw the victim being pinned to the ground, although the report states that he fell on his back. For his part, Mr. Niyondagara explains that he threw himself to the ground to protect himself when a police officer jumped on him.

The report also states that he was struck in the head by an officer and [was] held down by other officers and kneed on the right side of his body.

Paramedics performed a physical examination and found that the patient had a small puncture wound consistent with a probe device electronic.

MM. Boudreau and Niyondagara have different estimates of how long he was stuck there, but both agree that it lasted several minutes.

The 27-year-old believes he was not resisting and did not move much while on the ground. I was just waiting for the handcuffs to be put on me, he said.

The witness said to him that the man on the ground did not seem to be struggling at all, but [the police] continued to hit him, to shout at him.

The Ottawa Police Service did not want to answer detailed questions from CBC on the chase and the actions of the police officers who were intervened, apart from a short written statement.

The Ottawa Police Service received a call for service regarding a wanted person who had been seen in the area. When the police arrived on scene, the person fled and a chase began, the OPS first wrote.

We will not comment further on the incident to protect the privacy of the individual, but we can confirm that this is a case of mistaken identity. The person was questioned and released unconditionally.

The statement added that the appeal was reviewed by the channel of command and that the police plan to contact the person concerned to discuss the police intervention and their possible concerns.

Kane Niyondagara claims he was handcuffed, searched and put in a police car. He adds that the agent, who had his identity papers in his possession at the time, asked him if he knew a person named Gibriil.

OPS is seeking Gibriil Bakal, 29, for first degree murder in connection with a shooting that occurred in Ottawa on January 29. Jama Roble, 33, succumbed to his injuries. A 28-year-old suspect has already been arrested.

Police confirmed last week that Gibriil Bakal was still on the run and wanted.

According to Mr. Niyondagara, after a discussion about Gibriil's name, the officer left the patrol car and quickly returned to explain that there was a misunderstanding. He says the agent explained to him that the person they were looking for looked a lot like him and that he was a criminal.

A communications manager at Starbucks Coffee Canada, Leanna Rizzi, confirmed that police went to their branch on Innes Road on February 13, three days before the events, in connection with an investigation.

As always, we are doing our best to cooperate with local authorities, Ms. Rizzi wrote in an email to CBC.

But Leanna Rizzi did not answer questions about what led police to show up at the scene three days later, just after Mr. Niyondagara left the cafe.

Police would not confirm whether Gibriil Bakal was the subject of the reporting service call suspicious person that morning.

Whatever the full explanation, Kane Niyondagara was relieved to learn that it was an error.

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“As always, we are doing our best to cooperate with local authorities,” wrote a communications manager at Starbucks Coffee Canada.

After paramedics arrived, police asked Kane Niyondagara if he needed medical attention. I said no, that I was fine. I just wanted to go home and wash up, he said.

However, he eventually agreed and was allegedly taken into the ambulance, still handcuffed, which would have complicated the paramedics' physical examination.

Kane Niyondagara estimates that he remained handcuffed for at least twenty minutes. During most of this period, he claims the officers had his identification papers and recognized the mistaken identity.

He states that the police removed the handcuffs only when he signed a document confirming that he had received medical treatment.

The OPS would not confirm the length of time Mr. Niyondagara was handcuffed after establishing and validating his true identity. The paramedics' report does not address this issue.

Mr. Niyondagara refused to be taken to hospital and was eventually taken home. A police officer reportedly apologized. According to his recollection, it was not one of the four agents who was with him on the ground.

I felt like my lungs had holes. I was coughing really a lot. I felt pain all over the side of my face because the punch was so hard. It took several days for it to heal, explains Kane Niyondagara.

For several days, he claims to have had difficulty opening his jaw to eat.

The events also caused him emotional wounds. He claims not to have felt respected. He adds that he was even embarrassed by the situation and that he did not want to talk about it.

He chose to contact the Office of the Independent Police Review Director in hopes of bringing some justice after this ordeal, also hoping that it would not happen again.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">He would also like the police officer who hit him to apologize. He should deal with the situation, he concluded.

With information from Arthur White-Crummey, from CBC News

  • Charles Lalande (View profile)Charles LalandeFollow
Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116