Winnipeg police confirm officer took photo of intoxicated man, apologize after online backlash

Winnipeg police are apologizing after one of their officers took a photo of an intoxicated man while a first responder crew was helping him last Friday.

In the photo, posted by Justin Highway, a smiling Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service (WFPS) employee is seen sitting next to a man who appeared to be in a vulnerable state. A female officer is in front of him and is accompanied by a male police officer.

Highway told CBC News over the weekend he saw the female officer take a photo of the man, who police confirmed Monday was intoxicated.

“We apologize to this individual. We know the citizens of Winnipeg expect us to treat everyone with dignity and respect and they deserve nothing less,” Const. Rob Carver said Wednesday.

Highway’s photo, which didn’t capture the officer taking her photo of the man, created immediate backlash after attracting wide attention online. It was shared over 1,000 times on Facebook and prompted a response on Twitter from Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman.

“The police chief and fire paramedic chief, as well as senior administration, are already aware of the photo. It’s being reviewed. If valid, it’s obviously unbecoming of what’s expected by our emergency responders,” Bowman tweeted in a reply Saturday morning.

The apology by police Wednesday comes in stark contrast to a statement from the City of Winnipeg over the weekend, which said first responders acted properly.

A city spokesperson said Wednesday “new information has come to light.”

‘I don’t think sorry is enough’

Highway’s girlfriend Delaney Ducharme, who was stopped at a red light at the corner of Grant Avenue and Stafford Street when he took the photo, said she was happy to see police acknowledge an officer was in the wrong.

She told CBC News she saw the female officer take her photo after the WFPS employee on the bench asked her to.

“He said, like, take a photo, take a picture. So she reached into her pocket and went to take a photo,” she said Wednesday in a phone interview.

Ducharme said she found this disturbing because the man appeared to be in a vulnerable state and couldn’t consent. “He was, like, an unresponsive man. So in what nature is that right?”

“If it wasn’t for us being at that red light and it wasn’t for Justin taking that photo and publicizing this, this man would have never even known that someone took this mockery photo of him while he was unconscious.” Ducharme wants the officer to face disciplinary action.

“I don’t think sorry is enough and I would hope that whatever disciplinary action she can face, she should face.”

William Jewett, a Winnipeg man who is currently homeless, expressed sympathy for the intoxicated man.

“If I was in that situation and I had issues like that, I might not even remember but if I saw it I’d be pretty upset and want something done about it,” he said.

‘Not a criminal matter’

Carver didn’t say why the officer took the photo. Asked what disciplinary action the officer could face, he sent CBC a link to a police officer’s code of ethics.

Carver refused to say if it was the female or male officer who took the photo of the man, who was later taken to the Main Street Project, a shelter and support centre.

He said officers have spoken with the intoxicated man and the situation will now be addressed through the police service’s internal regulator’s process.

“This is not a criminal matter, so any discussions that would be had with him really aren’t public but I can tell you that I think everyone is satisfied with where this has ended up.”

A spokesperson for Manitoba’s police watchdog, the Independent Investigation Unit, said it hadn’t been notified about the incident by Winnipeg police. The unit investigates alleged misconduct by police officers and can investigate anything, the spokesperson said.

She added an investigation wouldn’t be mandatory if there is no death, serious injury or contravention of certain prescribed offences.

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