VICTORIA, B.C. - The man who shot a YouTube video of a Victoria police officer kicking two men who were apparently already being restrained says he welcomes a criminal investigation announced Wednesday because he believes too much force was used.
"I think those subjects could have been subdued without the additional kicking and kneeing that went on by the officers," Mike Morellato said in an interview Wednesday. "I think they had enough support to deal with the situation."
Victoria Police Chief Jamie Graham announced Vancouver police would conduct a criminal investigation into whether one officer responding to reports of a late-night brawl outside a city night club used excessive force.
Morellato, an environmental planner from Burnaby, was visiting Vancouver Island with friends last weekend when the group walked past a downtown club early Sunday morning.
Police were just arriving after reports of an eight-man fight and Morellato pulled out his video camera, more out of habit than an interest in documenting something controversial.
But the video he uploaded to YouTube on Monday has since generated more than 60,000 views and the officer involved is facing an internal investigation monitored by the B.C. Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, as well as the external criminal probe.
The officer, a nine-year veteran who was a supervisor at the weekend incident, has been assigned to desk duty.
Police arrested six men at the scene but all were released without charges. One man who was kicked in the head was taken to hospital but has since been released.
The YouTube video appears to show one officer kicking a man who's already been restrained, then along with a second officer allegedly kicking another man in the stomach and back.
"If the force used was excessive, the officers involved will be held accountable and rightly so," Graham promised at a news conference. "If it was not excessive I will be back here to explain that to you."
Harpinder Kang, one of the men who says he's shown in the video, claims he was kicked as he complied with orders to lie on the ground.
"I'm going to talk with my family, I'm going to talk this situation over and seek legal action," Kang told radio station CFAX. "That's just unjustified what happened to me. I'm a normal person."
Morrelato, 29, said he has been flooded with calls and kudos since posting the video online and hopes some good comes of it.
"I think if it does lead to disciplinary action, if the (police complaints) commission decides it's necessary, then I think it's a good thing," he said. "I'm glad that I shot it because it's just trying to bring more truth to the situation."
The weekend incident is the most recent case of Victoria police actions landing the force in hot water.
A man was left with permanent brain injuries when an officer slammed him onto a concrete floor in 2004, which drew a three-day suspension.
Willow Kinloch, who was 15 when she was arrested for public drunkenness, sued and reached an out-of-court settlement with police last year after she spent four hours tethered to a cell door.
Graham, former chief of the Vancouver department that will be investigating the Victoria officer, said investigators will include use-of-force experts whose opinion will carry a great deal of weight.
But he also criticized what he termed an atmosphere of "drunkenness, debauchery and silliness" that police encounter patrolling Victoria's nightclub district.
"It's a never-ending problem but there is a drinking problem with many young people in this city and we're going to do our best to try and correct that kind of behaviour," he said. "It's just awful."
David Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said he had a couple of concerns upon viewing the video.
"One is that the people on the tape seem to be either on the ground or complying with direction," he said.
"The second is ... the type of force that's used. In the second interaction, it's him using his knee. Those are called knee-strikes."
Eby said the Vancouver Police Board clarified its policy on such kicks a couple of years ago and directed officers to avoid using them in the torso because of the risk of breaking ribs.
Eby said it hardly inspires confidence in the investigation when Graham's old department is investigating his new one.
"It shows how difficult it is to get outside of the circle of police investigating police," he said, adding it creates a perception of conflict of interest, warranted or not.
Eby said police officers need to be aware the public is armed with video cameras and can record them when they least suspect it.
Graham said his officers know they might be taped as soon as they step out of their vehicles.
Quipped Eby, "Not if you watch that video."
-With a file by Sunny Dhillon in Vancouver.