WARNING: This story contains video and details that readers may find disturbing.
A Manitoba RCMP officer has been charged following a 2019 arrest during which a Mountie pressed his knee on the neck of a man at Winnipeg’s airport, while the man repeatedly cried “I can’t breathe.”
Manitoba’s police watchdog said in a news release on Monday that there are reasonable grounds to believe a criminal offence occurred.
Const. Eric Gerein is charged with assault and ordered to appear in provincial court on Sept. 26.
The arrest outside the James Richardson International Airport was captured on video by the father of Nathan Lasuik, the man who was pinned to the ground.
The footage shows an RCMP officer kneeling on Lasuik’s neck and placing the man’s face against the ground. The officer does not appear to adjust his knee, nor the pressure, despite repeated pleas from the man.
Although the arrest happened on Aug. 1, 2019, the RCMP did not notify the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba about it until more than two years later, on Aug. 11, 2021, after the video was entered as evidence during the arrested man’s trial.
Jane MacLatchy, who was then commanding officer of the Manitoba RCMP, said the force learned about the events from a Winnipeg Free Press report on the trial, after which the RCMP reported the allegations to the IIU, which investigates serious incidents involving police.
‘Let me breathe’
At one point in the video recorded by Lasuik’s father, the officer dismisses Lasuik’s pleas because he could still speak.
“Let me breathe,” Lasuik is heard saying early in the video.
“You’re breathing. When you’re talking, you’re breathing,” someone shouts back. It’s not clear from the video which police officer is speaking.
A police officer can be heard telling a bystander to step away, but she stands her ground.
“I’m just making sure that this person can breathe,” the bystander says.
At the end of the video, a police officer approaches Lasuik’s father to ask if he was recording.
“I have to seize the phone,” the officer says, before the video ends.
RCMP were at the airport after receiving a report of an intoxicated man who assaulted a person and then struck an officer in the face without provocation, the force said in a news release last year.
When officers arrived at the airport, they tried to de-escalate the situation but Lasuik became combative and hit an officer, the news release said.
Lasuik was put in handcuffs but kicked an officer in the groin before officers pinned him to the ground, which is when the officer put his knee on the back of Lasiuk’s neck, police said.
Lasuik was charged with several counts of assault and his case went to trial.
Lasuik later pleaded guilty to two assault charges and was found guilty of the third and was given a conditional discharge. He was placed under supervised probation for one year.
The IIU is not providing further details of the case against Gerein because the case is now before the courts, the news release said on Monday.
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