MONTREAL — A Montreal man who was beaten by transit inspectors in a ticketing attempt captured on a bystander video this month broke his silence Tuesday, criticizing what he said was an excessive use of force.
Juliano Gray said his troubles began on the evening of March 7 when he didn’t pay his $3.25 transit fare and dribbled a ball on a subway car.
Meeting with reporters at the offices of a civil rights organization that added its voice to calls for an independent inquiry into the incident, Gray admitted he didn’t have a valid ticket and was playing with a soccer ball when he was stopped by inspectors.
But he said he didn’t deserve the repeated baton strikes that left him diagnosed with post-traumatic stress, among other injuries, and cost him his job as a dishwasher.
In a now widely circulated video, the 21-year-old is seen being struck with batons by two subway inspectors on the platform of the Villa Maria station as they struggle to restrain him.
“That’s when I understood it wasn’t a typical arrest, it was a distortion,” Gray said. “We didn’t understand each other. I wasn’t trying to make them look bad, and they were just trying to do their job, but it was brutal and excessive force.”
In the video, a metro train sounds its horn and Gray narrowly avoids striking his head against an oncoming train as he moves away from the baton-wielding inspectors.
Gray described the incident as a misunderstanding — the inspectors thought he was trying to evade them when he got off a stop earlier than they had requested.
“I got off by mistake, and they thought I was trying to flee,” Gray said, adding that after being struck several times, he decided to escape.
“I wasn’t trying to run away from them, I was trying to run away from the pain,” he said.
He ran out of the station, leaving his possessions behind. He later collected them with the help of a lawyer from the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations.
The Montreal Transit Corp. said it completed its investigation into the incident and concluded proper enforcement procedures were followed. “Our internal investigation showed us that our inspectors acted according to the standards and procedures put in place,” spokeswoman Amelie Regis said.
But the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations is calling for an independent probe, echoing calls last week by opposition city councillors and community activists who described the incident as an abuse of force and recommended the creation of a civilian oversight committee.
Executive director Fo Niemi said his organization has met with witnesses who weren’t interviewed by transit officials. His organization has written to the transit authority asking it to conserve all video evidence from that night. “It’s important to have an independent, external investigation,” he said.
Niemi said Gray contacted his organization last week, and it is looking at how best to help him. He said a police investigation remains open and it wouldn’t surprise him if Gray is charged in the affair.
A Montreal police spokeswoman couldn’t confirm if there was an open investigation.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press