THUNDER BAY – A Thunder Bay police officer has pled guilty to Discreditable Conduct over his treatment of an Indigenous man while in police custody. The charge relates to an incident in summer of 2014, and only recently came to light thanks to an unrelated review of a death in police custody that year.
The incident occurred on Aug. 2, 2014, when Const. Neal Soltys apprehended Dino Kwandibens, a resident of Whitesand First Nation who has since passed away. Kwandibens was heavily intoxicated, and while he apparently preferred to be dropped off at detox or the hospital, Soltys brought him back to the police station. Soltys's lawyer in the disciplinary hearing says that was because detox facilities were full, and the hospital would not have accepted him.
Surveillance footage from the police station shows Soltys dragging Kwandibens by one foot to a cell, with Kwandibens’ head and upper body at one point hitting a garbage bin, producing an audible noise. Two other officers were with Soltys throughout most of the interaction.
Soltys can be heard referring to Kwandibens as “Dino the dinosaur,” saying the words “sack of shit” – a phrase his lawyer claims was not directed at Kwandibens, but rather a general expression of frustration – and telling him, “walk like a man – you got drunk like a man.”
Soltys is also heard saying “Oh, why is everyone a child?” and “I like these guys that get so shit drunk, then they can’t even walk,” and makes reference to “running a babysitting service.”
The footage was recently brought to the attention of the Police Chief Sylvia Hauth, after a coroner reviewed tape from the same day concerning a separate incident of a death in police custody. That presumably refers to an inquest into the death of Don Mamakwa, who died in custody on Aug. 13, 2014. The Chief initiated disciplinary proceedings against Soltys after reviewing the footage.
The lawyer representing police in the hearing said the case is bound to make an already fragile relationship with the Indigenous community even more difficult.
“It’s no secret the Thunder Bay Police Service does have relationship problems with the Indigenous community,” she said. “This obviously sets us back.”
The police lawyer condemned Soltys’s behavior as “dehumanizing,” but added there was no indication it was racially motivated. He has an otherwise spotless record, and has been a “valued and productive” member of the service, she added. Soltys’s lawyer said in the hearing this was an isolated instance of poor judgement, and shouldn’t reflect on a lifetime of service.
The two parties made a joint submission recommending disciplinary measures of 12 hours docked pay, and an acknowledgement from Soltys of his wrongful behaviour. Soltys expressed remorse for his actions in the hearing, and has written a letter of apology to Kwandibens' family.
Adjudicator Peter Lennox, a retired Toronto Police commander, will review evidence in the hearing before coming to a decision on disciplinary procedures.
Kwandibens’ daughter, Alice Kitakijick, attended the hearing. She didn’t meet her father until shortly before his death in 2016. She said her feelings after the hearing were complicated
"It's devastating [how he was treated], but I don't know how I really feel about it," she said. "But knowing this is the kind of actions the police took against him..." she trailed off.
Kitakijick said seeing the video makes her wonder if a non-Indigenous person would have been treated the same way.