After not being heard from since a court appearance on Monday, following an arrest caught on video and widely shared, Evan Penner has been found and is healing with his family, according to the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations.
Penner was the subject of an arrest in the 500 block of 11th Street East on Saturday that was captured on video. In the video, officers can be seen punching Penner numerous times as he struggles on the ground. Penner was also pepper sprayed and Tasered during the incident.
How Penner and the officer became engaged in a physical confrontation is unclear, but witnesses who encountered Penner before his arrest say he was quiet and non-confrontational.
The call that led to his arrest was a non-emergency call. A tenant told her landlord she was feeling unsafe, as Penner was using the apartment block’s garden hose to bathe and was said to be acting erratically.
Penner is facing numerous charges following the arrest, including attempting to disarm a peace officer, assaulting a police officer, mischief and possession of a controlled substance.
The video of his arrest resulted in advocates calling for the firing of the officers involved, as both the Indigenous Joint Action Coalition and Black Lives Matter YXE say police “violently brutalized” Penner, who is from the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation in northern Manitoba.
“This is a very serious and stressful situation for Mr. Penner and his family,” said the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in a news release. Evan’s mother, who travelled from northern Manitoba after seeing video of her son’s arrest, is now in Saskatoon, the FSIN said.
Before he was located on Wednesday morning, Penner’s lawyers and his family were unsure about his whereabouts, and hadn’t heard from him since he made an appearance via telephone at Saskatoon’s provincial court on Monday morning.
The FSIN, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, added its voice of concern about the video on Tuesday. It is calling on the Saskatoon Police Service to immediately review and amend its use of force policies.
“We are still healing the relationship between the First Nations community and the Saskatoon police following the Stonechild Inquiry. Incidents like this one continue to put a heavy strain on that relationship,” FSIN Vice-Chief Dutch Lerat said in a news release Tuesday.
“There are still instances of police brutality taking place at the hands of SPS members.”
Officer not on administrative leave: police
In a release from Saskatoon police, the service said it’s treating the matter as a “critical and serious incident,” noting Penner sustained a non-life-threatening injury to his face during the arrest.
The statement indicated “addictions and related mental health issues were present during the incident and this will form part of the investigation.”
“I recognize this incident was a traumatic event for our community, for those involved and for those who witnessed it,” police Chief Troy Cooper said in the statement.
“Whenever force is used we are accountable and I want to assure the public that this is being taken seriously and we will do our utmost to be open and transparent as the investigation unfolds.”
The Saskatoon Police Association, which represents Saskatoon police members, said in a statement on Tuesday it feels a fulsome investigation into the matter will find that its officers acted appropriately, given the circumstances.
“The resulting video, which only depicts the use-of-force aspect of the arrest, doesn’t show much needed context around the interaction, and the Saskatoon Police Association hopes people will hold judgment in this incident until a full, independent investigation can take place,” said the association’s president, Dean Pringle, in the release.
The association also said Penner was the subject of an indecent exposure call on the day of his arrest. The Saskatoon Police Service confirmed Wednesday that call happened in the 600 block of Clarence at around 8 a.m., but said Penner was released after being apprehended.
The police service originally issued a statement indicating that one of the officers involved in the arrest was placed on leave. However, on Wednesday, the police association and the police service clarified that the officer is not on any kind of punitive leave, but was given time off following the incident, ahead of previously scheduled time off.
“This is in line with the SPS response to serious incidents,” the police service said in a statement Wednesday.
“The officers most involved in the incident take a leave before taking part in a debrief regarding the incident. This is different from when an officer is placed on administrative leave for disciplinary reasons or during a criminal investigation.”
The association says the officer is set to be back on shift next week.
‘Need to see immediate changes’
Anger about the video has now spread beyond Saskatchewan’s border, with Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, a political advocacy group that represents roughly 72,000 First Nations people in northern Manitoba, also condemning the actions of the officers in the arrest.
“I am very concerned with the handling of incidents across the country where police have been called for assistance,” MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee said in a Wednesday news release.
“It is devastating to our relationships with police when we see arrests of Indigenous peoples being handled with such violence. We need to see immediate changes to the ways in which the RCMP, and other police, are working with Indigenous peoples.”
In the release, Settee says MKO will protect its citizens regardless of where they live, saying it is concerned for “the well-being of Indigenous peoples from coast to coast to coast.”
“The Saskatoon Police Service needs to take a good look at their organization to investigate what is happening within their ranks,” Settee said in the release.
“They must work closely with First Nations leaders to eliminate the systemic discrimination that exists within their force.”
Saskatoon’s board of police commissioners is set to hold a special meeting on Thursday to discuss Penner’s arrest.
A representative for the board said it is refraining from further comment until after the meeting.