The Edmonton Police Commission has upheld the suspension without pay of an officer facing an assault charge for a violent 2019 arrest in which he walked up to an Indigenous man under arrest and drove his knee into the prone man’s back.
The commission made the decision after a July 13 hearing in which the Edmonton Police Association (EPA), the union that represents police members, argued the suspension against Cst. Michael Partington was not warranted, a letter from the union president to members states.
In his July 23 letter, obtained by CBC News, EPA president Sgt. Michael Elliott told members “you are not alone in your frustrations, anger, and resentment” and assured them the union is using “every proper legal mechanism available to address what we feel is an incorrect and unjust decision.”
Elliott said the EPA awaits the commission’s written decision and the union’s legal counsel will determine if there are grounds to seek a judicial review.
Commission chair Micki Ruth said in an emailed statement that after “careful review and consideration, the commission upheld the decision of the (police) chief with respect to Cst. Partington’s suspension without pay.”
She said the commission’s written decision has been drafted and will be presented to commissioners for final approval at an in-camera meeting on Sept. 17, after which it will be provided to the union and its legal counsel.
“There have been many other members who have been in similar circumstances and have not been suspended without pay,” Elliot said in a June 17 letter to members shortly after Partington was suspended. “They have either remained in their current roles, been moved to an administrative role, or suspended with pay.
“The Association is fearful this is pandering to the current climate and this is not in the best interests of the service and especially the affected member.” Elliot said the union has provided Partington criminal and labour legal counsel.
Elliott declined an interview request from CBC News, saying his comments to members speak for themselves. He confirmed the EPA is providing criminal and labour legal counsel for Partington.
Criminal defence lawyer Tom Engel, who specializes in police misconduct cases, said Elliott’s messages to EPS members show “a disturbing lack of insight into what the police service ought to be concerned about, which is not necessarily the interests of the Edmonton Police Service or of Partington, but the best interests of the public.”
Violent arrest captured on video
In early June, CBC News and other media outlets reported on a video that captured the violent August 2019 arrest of Elliot McLeod. The video, taken by a bystander and later shared on social media, shows McLeod lying still and facedown on the sidewalk. A police officer appears to hold McLeod’s arms behind his back.
A second officer then walks up and suddenly drops, driving his knee into McLeod’s upper back. McLeod screams in pain and begs the officers to stop.
“Do not run from the police,” one officer shouts at him. “Did you think I wouldn’t catch you?”
The video was shared with police shortly after the arrest. On June 12 — nearly a year later but less than a week after the video circulated online — the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service recommended a criminal charge of assault against Partington, the EPS said in a statement that also announced Partington had been removed from duty without pay.
The EPS Professional Standards Branch had referred the investigation to Crown prosecutors after its initial investigation “concluded that the level of force described in the police report was not consistent with the force observed in the video,” the statement said.
In a June interview with CBC News, McLeod said the officers took him down a side street and assaulted him twice while he was handcuffed, at one point with a bag over his head.
“After he arrested me, throwing me into his cop car, he dragged me out of that cop [vehicle] twice while I was in cuffs and assaulted me,” McLeod said on a phone interview from the Edmonton Remand Centre. “This is what I am trying to get justice for.”
Partington is scheduled for a first appearance in court on August 25. An EPS spokesperson confirmed his suspension is pending the outcome of the assault charge.
The four charges against McLeod stemming from the August 2019 arrest, including assaulting and resisting a peace officer, were stayed in January. He is currently out on bail awaiting trial after being charged with second-degree murder in an unrelated case earlier this year.
Officers angry, frustrated over suspension: union
In his most recent letter, Elliott said the union felt compelled to address “misleading information” from an email distributed to members of the northwest division, where Partington works, “casting doubts on the actions of the Association and the representation of the member in question.”
The union remains in contact with Partington and his family, Elliott said, and continues to urge EPS Chief Dale McFee to lift the suspension. He said that in an earlier email to members, the union outlined ways of financially supporting Partington.
The constable’s suspension caused outrage among fellow officers, Elliott acknowledged. But he urged members to exercise restraint and trust the union.
“We have heard of members speaking of a vote of non-confidence against the chief and the commission, protests in front of HQ, and even members wishing to present their issues and concerns to the media,” Elliott wrote.
“In our view, these concepts, while understandable expressions of legitimate concern about recent events, will not achieve positive change.”
‘How could they think that this was unjust?’
Elliott said members also suggested creating a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for Partington, something ultimately prohibited by the crowdfunding website’s rules, or that the union “pursue civil action” against EPS for the suspension — an action Elliott said is “literally not legally possible and (is) counter-productive in this discourse.”
“I can personally assure you that all legal, formal, informal, conventional, and unconventional avenues have been vigorously pursued by the EPA to overturn this suspension without pay,” he said.
Engel, the defence lawyer, said Chief McFee was completely justified in suspending Partington without pay. And if the police union is accurately representing the views of its members, “then that is a real problem, if there is that kind of attitude within the EPS rank-and-file,” he said.
“How could they think that this was unjust, after seeing that video?”
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