Peel police launch internal probe after Black teen mistakenly arrested in high-stakes takedown
Peel Regional Police say they have launched an internal review following the dramatic mistaken arrest of a Black teen while police were hunting for a kidnapping suspect.
“While our officers were acting in good faith on credible information, it does not negate that this was a traumatic experience. An internal review is underway to examine the events leading to this incident,” Peel police said in a statement Monday.
Acting on a tip last Wednesday, Peel police officers and members of the Toronto Police Emergency Task Force descended on a vehicle in the area of Don Mills Road and Finch Avenue.
According to police, officers received a tip that 21-year-old Kwami Garwood was driving in the area. Garwood is currently wanted on suspicion of kidnapping in Peel Region and in connection with an unrelated murder in Toronto in July of last year.
“Due to the serious nature of the alleged offences, and that Garwood is believed to be armed and dangerous, Peel and Toronto police worked together to make what they believed to be a high-risk arrest,” Peel police said. “A plan was created with the Toronto Emergency Task Force to effect the arrest as quickly as possible while maintaining the safety of the public and the officers.”
But after executing the high stakes arrest, police determined that the male in the vehicle was not in fact the suspect they were looking for but was rather a 17-year-old teen on his way to McDonald’s.
Video of the incident captured by a bystander shows the boy being held to the ground by heavily armored officers. The video also shows smoke and an audible loud bang.
Asena Cengiz, the bystander who shot the video, said she was concerned that the teen couldn’t breath and said she saw him patting his chest when he was pressed against the car.
She said she would have been “traumatized for life” if she had been the subject of the arrest she witnessed.
“I was just scared that something would happen because the whole situation was just really chaotic,” she said.
Dave Bosveld, the teen’s godfather, said the vehicle was boxed in and that officers then smashed the window with a hammer before firing a stun grenade into the car and dragging the teen from the vehicle and cuffing him.
“It was horrifying for him, it was horrifying for the family,” Bosveld said.
He said his godson and the suspect don’t look alike and that “the only thing they have in common is Black skin.”
In their statement, Peel police defended their actions and said that they had a "duty to act” on the information that they had received, even though it turned out to be incorrect.
They pointed out that the operation was “carefully planned” and did not result in any serious injuries to anyone involved.
Still, the force acknowledged the incident was "traumatic" for the young man who was wrongfully arrested.
“We regret this mistake and the distress this has caused this young man and his family. Peel Police made initial contact with the family on that day. We have since made contact with a family representative to further discussions and offer our support,” the statement read.
The teen is not being identified in order to protect his identity.
Bosveld said that even after police realized their error, they charged his godson with breaching a court condition not to drive because he was caught driving without a licence when he was younger.
“The fact that they persisted in laying charges after they got the wrong guy for something entirely unrelated just goes to show what we’re dealing with out here,” he said.
The family has started an online fundraising campaign to hire a lawyer.
Garwood remains at large and is considered armed and dangerous.
- With files from CTV News Toronto's Saron Fenel