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Lawsuit accuses Orillia OPP of attacking two Indigenous men, lying about it

The brothers accused officers of 'wrongfully racially profiling' during a 2018 altercation in Ramara Township
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Image from OPP

Orillia OPP officers manhandled and abused two Indigenous men, lied about it in their notes, falsely accused the men of criminal offices and then tried to strike a deal with the men if they didn’t pursue a claim, according to a lawsuit filed against the provincial police force and four of its Orillia officers.

“(Randall) May and (Aaron) Keeshig, who are both First Nations men, assert that the illegal, violent and entirely unjustified treatment they suffered was the result of racial profiling, racial bias and discrimination,” according to a statement of claim filed against the OPP and four officers, two of whom are unnamed, on July 22. 

“The plaintiffs bring this lawsuit to hold the police accountable for wrongfully racially profiling, assaulting and detaining them, and to affirm and vindicate their Charter rights," notes the statement. "Mr. May and Mr. Keeshig hope that by holding the police accountable for wrongs committed against them, that the police will refrain in future from committing similar abuses against other Indigenous people.”

Randall May, 57, and Aaron Keeshig, 50, accuse the police of assault, battery, wrongful imprisonment, illegal detention, negligence, misfeasance in public office and breaching their rights and are suing for $200,000 each.

The lawsuit remains a claim and is unproven by the court.

OPP officials have not yet filed a statement of defence.

Orillia OPP Const. Martin Hill said the OPP could not comment on the matter because it's before the courts.

In the lawsuit, May and Keeshig charge that their rights were breached during an interaction with Orillia OPP officers Sept, 15, 2018 near May’s Ramara Township home.

According to the lawsuit, May, who is Anishinaabe and often wears his long hair tied in a braid down his back, was pushing his bike home near his property after having dinner with his brother when an officer approached him. 

“Mr. May did not wish to engage with PC (Mark) Connor. He simply wanted to be left alone and in peace,” the allegation reads. “Despite the fact that Mr. May posed no threat, and despite not having any reason to detain or arrest Mr. May, PC Connor engaged in an entirely unjustified, violent and illegal arrest of Mr. May on his own property.”

The statement of claim then details a disturbing interaction between the two which then included his half-brother, Aaron Keeshig, and other officers. The interaction was captured on video and was posted on the CBC website Friday.

According to the statement of claim, the first officer took an interest in May because he believed him to be intoxicated and he matched the description of a traffic hazard complaint about a “native male” who was reported to have fallen off his bike on Atherley Road earlier that day. 

Keeshig tried to defuse the situation, according to the claim, but then another officer, Const. Andrew Markle, grabbed his arm and flipped him onto the asphalt driveway, the lawsuit alleges.

“PC Markle then applied his full bodyweight on Mr. Keeshig’s back and put him in handcuffs,” it reads.

The video shows an officer leaving a man cuffed on the ground as he turns his attention to another man, who appears to have been pushed into a wooded area by the first officer. The claim says May went face-first into poison ivy.

The officers are accused of then using their Taser guns several times on May, who lost control of his bowels. The officers, the claim alleges, repeatedly punched him and then cuffed him as he lay on the ground.

The brothers said they were then kept in “a small, cold and cement cell wearing nothing but their underwear” for nearly 12 hours overnight. They were refused medical attention and denied blankets. May was forced to remain in his soiled underwear.

“In order to justify the illegal assault, detention and arrest, the police falsified police notes, falsely accused both brothers of offences they did not commit, and wrongly charged Mr. May with assaulting police,” reads the statement of claim.

May, a member of the Nipissing First Nation, is a general contractor.

Keeshig lives in Neyaashiingmiing First Nation (Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation), near Wiarton and is a commercial fisherman who often visits May at his home in Ramara.

Keeshig, according to the claim, sustained substantial physical injuries including multiple bloody wounds, suffered from intense pain in his back, neck, shoulders and head from being slammed to the ground. 

May, it continues, also suffered substantial physical injuries.

May was subsequently charged with assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest as well as being intoxicated in a public place and having liquor in an open container. His criminal charges were withdrawn the following November and the Liquor Licence Act charges were withdrawn five months later.

Keeshig was also charged with two liquor-related offences and was convicted, in absentia, that November. His conviction was overturned on March 27, 2019.

“Subsequent to and for the express purpose of justifying the illegal assault, detention and arrest of Mr. May and Mr. Keeshig after the fact, the defendants falsified police notes, and other official records of the incident,” the claim states.

The brothers later filed a complaint to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), which they did at the suggestion of an OPP officer at the Orillia OPP station.

But their lawyer, Promise Holmes Skinner, wrote in the claim that the office does not independently conduct investigations, but generally refers them back to the same police service against whom the complaint was made.

“In the weeks and months that followed, instead of conducting a good faith investigation of the OIPRD complaint, the OPP officers assigned to investigate began harassing Mr. May and pressuring him to drop the complaint. One OPP officer even went so far as to offer to withdraw Mr. May’s criminal charges if he in turn would withdraw the OIPRD complaint," the statement reads.

"OPP officers continued to show up unannounced at both Mr. May and Mr. Keeshig’s home in a manner that was unwanted and intimidating,” the statement says.

In addition to falsifying the notes “and other official records," the brothers accuse Markle and Connor of abusing their powers and falsely indicating that May was under release conditions.