Ottawa cop pleads guilty to assaulting teen in health crisis

The Nov. 6, 2022 assault was captured on surveillance video.

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Ottawa police Const. Muhammad Omair Khan pleaded guilty Thursday to assaulting a handcuffed 13-year-old boy who was in his custody and in the midst of a mental health crisis in a CHEO hallway in 2022.

The Nov. 6, 2022 assault was captured on surveillance video. Khan is seen lunging toward the youth and grabbing him around the jaw before throwing him to the floor. The youth was seated in a chair with his hands cuffed behind his back and was posing no physical threat to the officer or anyone else at the time, Crown attorney Timothy Kavanagh told the judge during Thursday’s hearing.

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Khan’s defence lawyers said their client was provoked by a steady tirade of “racially ignitable” slurs from the “extremely belligerent” youth, who has Tourette syndrome and was experiencing a violent breakdown when he was apprehended by Khan and his partner under the Mental Health Act earlier in the night.

Khan is represented by veteran criminal defence lawyer James Foord, along with partners Brandon Crawford and Tony Paciocco with the high-profile Edelson Law firm.

In the 12-minute video from the hospital hallway, Khan is seen grabbing the youth around the jaw and forcing him back in his chair as the officer puts his face directly into the youth’s face; he then throws the boy to the floor, face-down, and steps on his back for several seconds as another officer and a CHEO nurse emerge from an adjoining room.

Khan and his partner are then seen hoisting the youth up by his arms, which remained cuffed behind his back for the duration.

The assault — and the 12-minute verbal exchange that preceded the assault — happened in plain view of staff, nurses and some of the youthful patients at the children’s hospital.

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The investigation was launched after hospital staff reviewed the video and deemed it worthy of a police intervention.

Khan was assigned to administrative duties after he was charged with one count of assault by the Ottawa Police Service’s professional standards unit in May 2023.

According to the agreed statement of facts read into the court record Thursday, the officer and his partner had responded to a 911 emergency dispatch for a terrified family who had barricaded themselves in a bedroom after their 13-year-old son tried to choke his sister and threatened to kill his parents with a kitchen knife.

The youth, whose identity is shielded by a publication ban, was taken into custody just after 11 p.m. and driven to CHEO for an assessment, where surveillance cameras show the handcuffed youth and the two officers arriving around midnight.

The boy was told to sit in a hallway chair and he is seen in the video exchanging heated words with Khan. The youth is seen twice raising his leg in a kicking motion, though no kick was ever completed or directed at the officer.

There is no audio in the surveillance footage, but the officers filed affidavits stating the boy’s abusive language and racial taunts were among the worst they had ever heard.

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At one point, the youth managed to remove the mask from his face and kicked it in Khan’s direction. The officer is seen kicking the sole of the youth’s foot in response.

Khan is then seen lunging forward and grabbing the youth by the jaw with both hands as the officer gets directly in the youth’s face.

Khan’s defence lawyers acknowledged that the officer grabbing the youth around the jaw constituted a criminal assault.

Foord said the youth spat at the officer at that point, and said his client reacted appropriately by taking him to the floor.

Khan is seen throwing the youth to the floor face-down, then briefly placing his knee, then his foot on the youth’s back before Khan and his partner escort him down the hallway and out of the camera’s view.

“The assault takes place when officer Khan moves forward and grabs the jaw with both hands — that’s an assault,” Foord told the judge. “It was not justified. It was out of frustration, but that’s what happened.

“He was swearing throughout and said some things that were highly racially ignitable … with children all around, by the way. And my client overreacted to that,” Foord said.

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“That action was unjustified and that was excessive force, to grab the jaw of a person in handcuffs because of the way they’re behaving… (But) in my submission, I don’t think the Crown can prove the grounding was unjustified.”

Kavanagh, who was brought in from an outside jurisdiction to prosecute the case, countered that the entire 18-second physical interaction was “one continuous assault… from the first kick to the takedown.”

Kavanagh said it was impossible to determine from the surveillance video whether the youth actually spat at the officer.

Khan stood in the courtroom on Thursday to plead guilty and express his remorse.

“I overreacted. It was wrong. My wish is to help in difficult times and I would like to apologize to (the youth) and to the community,” Khan said.

Ontario Court Justice Geoffrey Griffin said he received numerous letters of support from Khan’s family and his policing colleagues, along with a Chief’s commendation in 2021, a meritorious service award in 2016, positive performance reviews and a reference from the Ottawa West Community Health Centre, all describing Khan as an “exemplary” officer with no disciplinary history.

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Khan’s family is from Pakistan, he grew up in North York and began his policing career in Regina before moving to Ottawa eight years ago. He has been a police officer for 13 years, court heard.

He has taken policing courses on dealing with the public since the assault and worked with a psychologist for six months, the judge noted.

Foord asked the judge to grant a conditional discharge, saying a criminal conviction would jeopardize any of Khan’s future policing prospects.

“There’s no doubt that if (a police officer) receives a conditional sentence or a jail sentence he will lose his job. That is not necessarily the case where an officer receives a suspended sentence,” Foord said.

Foord suggested a penalty of 100 hours of “substantial” community service and an increased victim fine surcharge of $1,000.

“He’s a good person and a good officer who found himself in an extremely unfortunate situation. And he made a mistake,” Foord said outside court Thursday.

Kavanagh said he disagreed with the defence “that this was a momentary lapse of judgement.”

“This is much more serious because of the young age and the vulnerability of the victim… He was absolutely defenceless,” Kavanagh said.

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“There was no reasonable threat from the youth towards anybody… It is a violent reaction with further humiliation as he puts his boot on (the youth’s) back,” he said.

Khan should have removed himself and called his partner to take over the “volatile” situation, the prosecutor said.

A tentative date was set in June for the judge’s decision.

Ottawa Police Association president Matthew Cox said the union continues to support Khan, in a statement Thursday.

“Our officers respond to difficult calls daily and in some cases are on the receiving end of verbal abuse. The Association does not condone unjustified use of force on any member of the community,” Cox stated.

“Const. Khan has an exemplary record as a police officer and one lapse of judgement should not reflect on the type of officer he is. Const. Khan has plead guilty, which demonstrates he accepts responsibility, and we are here to support him through the legal process.”

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