Northern News Services
Anger and frustration at the RCMP spilled out publicly during a special hamlet council meeting Friday afternoon, called after more than 200 residents signed a petition accusing the RCMP of "using unnecessary use of force" and "harassing the citizens of the community."
Tuktoyaktuk has a population of 930. About 40 attended the Friday meeting.
Much of the anger that sparked the petition stems from an alleged incident Aug. 10, when John Noksana Sr., a 55-year-old resident of Tuk and a hamlet employee for almost 11 years, says he was mistreated during and subsequent to an arrest for public intoxication by then acting Sgt. Alan Shepherd and Const. Yves Gravelle.
In his formal letter of complaint to the RCMP dated Aug. 13, Noksana says he had returned to Tuk from Edmonton after a CAT-scan and "began drinking. Around 9 p.m. (Aug. 10) I was standing outside of Francis Gruben's residence when the RCMP stopped."
He says after the Mounties jumped out of their truck he was "immediately pepper sprayed ... after the RCMP handcuffed me, they started to kick me all over my body."
Noksana was charged with resisting arrest the following day and is scheduled to appear in territorial court in Tuktoyaktuk Sept. 25.
"Al (Shepherd) kicked me twice in the back and once in the ribs" Noksana told News/North.
Noksana does not deny being intoxicated publicly, but says he was not causing a disturbance and did not resist arrest.
Two witnesses have signed statements, viewed by News/North, verifying Noksana's version of the arrest and attesting to the fact he was not causing a disturbance or resisting arrest.
At the detachment holding cells, Noksana says in his complaint, the "RCMP turned the water off and I was unable to wash the pepper spray out of my eyes."
He was released some 15 hours later, Noksana says.
15 years on the force
Shepherd, who as acting sergeant until late Friday afternoon, represented the RCMP detachment at the special council meeting, refused to discuss individual allegations against him or other officers in the Noksana or any other case.
Shepherd resumed his constable's duties with the return of Sgt. Brian Winters from vacation late Friday.
Shepherd and Gravelle are both recent transfers to the Tuk detachment. Shepherd arrived June 5 after six years in Hobbema, Alta.
A 15-year veteran of the RCMP, Shepherd, 38 and a native of Halifax, said he has also been stationed in Port Saunders, on Newfoundland's northern peninsula.
Shepherd told the meeting that he worked 36 hours straight the weekend of Aug. 10.
During the first two weeks of August, 56 prisoners were lodged in cells in Tuk, while 71 were held in custody in July. At the current rate, there will be more than 100 prisoners held in cells this month, he said.
Shepherd said "most people are not handcuffed" when arrested in Tuk, "but if you're violent, you will be handcuffed."
Allison Raddi, 32, told the meeting she was also roughed up by police while being arrested for being intoxicated in public the weekend of Aug. 10.
"They grabbed be by the neck and choked me," she said. Raddi said she has been charged with mischief and is to appear in court Tuesday. She is also charged with a subsequent breach of recognizance for allegedly consuming alcohol Aug. 15.
Shepherd said of the 198 complaints the detachment has received since July 1, alcohol is involved in 98 per cent of them.
Shepherd acknowledged the anguish in the community and tensions between hamlet residents and the RCMP.
"I do understand there's a lot of hurt in this room," he said.
Mayor Eddie Dillon told the council meeting that excessive force allegations against the RCMP "are one of my biggest concerns.... I encourage everybody to keep writing" (to the RCMP if they have formal complaints).
Winters said later it could take up to six months to resolve the formal complaints against the force at the detachment level. If he is unable to satisfy both parties, the complaint goes up the chain of command in Yellowknife.
Shepherd said he believes one of the five complaints, which he says stem from three incidents, has been resolved.
Many of the residents expressed anger and frustration with Shepherd's refusal to discuss specific allegations and instead talk only in general terms about force policy.
"This is just window dressing ... nothing's going to stop," said Coun. Georgina Jacobson-Masuzumi.
Her brother, Frederick Jacobson, 33, has been charged by Tuktoyaktuk RCMP with possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking, possession of marijuana and bootlegging under the NWT Liquor Act.
He was arrested as part of a larger RCMP operation, announced publicly in a press release late Friday afternoon, leading to criticism that the timing of the arrests was designed to take the focus off Friday's meeting dealing with police conduct.
RCMP said they seized $6,800 worth of illegal drugs, including $2,400 in crack cocaine, and $5,600 worth of alcohol.
Besides Jacobson, two others were charged with drug offences, while three others were charged with bootlegging and five with supplying liquor to a minor. The accused will appear in justice of the peace court Aug. 20 or territorial court Sept. 25.
- with a file from Lynn Lau