WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
An acting sergeant with the Hamilton Police Service pleaded guilty Monday after being charged with assaulting a man during an arrest in May 2022.
Acting Sgt. Brian Wren appeared in court virtually, in front of a group of people in the courtroom wearing orange shirts, in support of Patrick Tomchuk, the Indigenous man who Wren arrested.
Ontario Court of Justice Bruce Pugsley heard Tomchuk’s lawyer, Richard Garwood-Jones, and Wren’s lawyer, Bernard Cummins, describe the arrest.
Wren was working with a plain-clothes police unit focused on street-level drug dealers and other crime. The team was helping with Project Grizzly, a one-month investigation into criminal activity involving stolen vehicles.
Video shows arrest
Garwood-Jones said Wren identified a 2007 Ford F350 pick-up truck as a stolen vehicle on the night of May 25.
Police watched the vehicle over the next day and identified Tomchuk as the driver.
At roughly 9 p.m., Tomchuk pulled into a gas station on the Hamilton mountain.
As he started pumping gas into the truck, unmarked vehicles surrounded the vehicle and plain-clothes officers swarmed him.
Video shown in court appears to show Tomchuk trying to hold onto the truck and the gas pump hose as police officers wrestle him to the ground.
Garwood-Jones said police officers struggled to arrest Tomchuk because he was reportedly resisting.
“Patrick, don’t you f***ing move,” one officer said at the scene, according to Garwood-Jones.
In interviews since the incident, Garwood-Jones said police officers described kneeing and hitting Tomchuk.
They also said it appeared Wren was using a kicking motion but weren’t sure if he did and what, if anything, he struck.
A woman on the other side of the gas pump caught some of what happened on camera.
The video shot on a phone shows Wren stomp and kick Tomchuk’s head multiple times.
“Hands behind your back now, f***er,” yells an officer in the video.
Garwood-Jones said police who reviewed the video say Wren struck the back of Tomchuk’s head with his foot roughly nine times before moving to the front and hitting him four times in the face with his foot before stepping on Tomchuk’s head again.
Tomchuk appears to be unconscious for most of the video and his right ear appears to be bleeding.
“That’s disgusting,” whispered someone in the courtroom while the video played Monday.
The court heard Wren ended up going to the hospital because he broke his toe.
Police officers reportedly yelled out that Tomchuk was unconscious and eventually started gave him first aid.
Tomchuk was taken to hospital, assessed and then taken to the police station.
Wren, a 46-year-old who has been on the service for 10 years and had a 2021 salary of $131,107, turned himself in.
Cummins, Wren’s lawyer, said Pugsley should consider comments from police, Tomchuk and the citizen filming the incident as subjective views of what happened.
Community concerns about Monday’s court proceeding
Garwood-Jones said Tomchuk described not remembering much of what happened.
Tomchuk is facing his own set of charges with numerous theft-related offences related to the stolen vehicle investigation and one count of assault – resist arrest.
Tomchuk, accompanied by family, friends and members of the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre (HRIC), was in court but declined to speak with reporters.
Audrey Davis, the executive director of HRIC, told CBC Hamilton she’s “disturbed” by what she called a colonial process and with Garwood-Jones’s approach, even though he’s the lawyer representing Tomchuk.
At the start of Monday’s court proceeding, before reading out the synopsis of the event, Garwod-Jones described Tomchuk’s past criminal charges.
He said Tomchuk has a lengthy record including numerous thefts, assault charges, gun charges and a “disregard for court orders.”
Davis said that was inappropriate and not relevant to Wren’s charges.
“It should be about the accused, not the victim … all they’re doing is re-victimizing him again. It just adds another layer of trauma on the Indigenous people,” Davis said.
“It really highlights how far we have to go for reconciliation … the Crown is supposed to be representing the victim.”
CBC Hamilton has sought comment from Garwood-Jones.
Tomchuk spoke at the Art Gallery of Hamilton’s Speakers of Truth series in late September saying the incident has shaken his trust in police.
“You see an officer, and you’re supposed to feel safe,” Tomchuk said. “Not me.”
“To the person who caught this on their phone, my words of thanks are not enough.”
Garwood-Jones said Monday that since the incident, Tomchuk has reported having twitches and freezes up when he talks.
The incident has impacted his family, as well.
“Anger, hurt, agony and disgust are the words that come to mind when I think of what my brother suffered,” said Dhelia Baldwin, Tomchuk’s sister, at the art gallery talk.
Officer is identifying as Indigenous
On Monday, court heard lawyers will prepare a pre-sentence report for Wren and a Gladue report. Cummins told CBC Hamilton Wren self-identifies as Indigenous.
Gladue principles require circumstances in an Indigenous person’s life to be taken into consideration in sentencing.
There may also be a victim impact statement and community impact statement in the future.
HRIC previously made recommendations to the Hamilton Police Service following the incident to help address the “harm done by law enforcement agencies” against Indigenous peoples.
Those recommendations included establishing an Indigenous advisory or consultant position for the police service and establishing an interim community hate crime review circle without a police staff member present.
Davis said HRIC and Hamilton police have been in contact numerous times and are making progress.
The Hamilton Police Services Board also requested the police service to review all policies and procedures related to prisoner handling and use of force.
Wren is set to return to court on June 2.