MD Accuses Officer of Racism

Karen Kleiss, Edmonton Journal, July 16, 2009

An Edmonton doctor caught speeding says he was handcuffed, frisked, detained and berated by a police officer because he is of Asian descent, an allegation the officer flatly denies.

Dr. Paul Seto admits he was driving more than 50 kilometres over the speed limit, but says the officer breached his constitutional rights by unreasonably searching him, unlawfully detaining him, and administering cruel and unusual punishment by handcuffing him.

“The manner in which I was treated–the excessive force, the verbal abuse, the unprofessional demeanour–is totally unacceptable,” Seto told the court. “I personally feel I would be treated differently had I not been Asian or a minority.”

Seto told the court he could easily have paid the traffic ticket he received for driving 145 km/h in a 90 km/h zone, but he is fighting the ticket as a matter of principle.

“I do not wish this to happen to other people–other minorities–who don’t have the resources to fight back,” he said.

Court heard that on the afternoon of Nov. 23,2008, Const. Wes Thomas pulled up behind Seto’s new white Mitsubishi Lancer at the intersection of Anthony Henday Drive and Callingwood Road.

When the light turned green, Seto peeled out of the intersection and accelerated until his speed levelled off at 145 km/h. Thomas followed and pulled Seto over.

The two cars stopped on the shoulder and Thomas used a bullhorn to order the driver out of the car. He demanded that Seto place the keys on the roof, then told him to walk backward toward the rear of his car and put his hands on the trunk.

Thomas then got out of the cruiser, handcuffed Seto, checked him for weapons and took him to sit in the back of the cruiser while he wrote the traffic ticket.

The two men agree on that much, but they told the court two entirely different versions of events.

Seto, a family doctor who counts 8,000 patients in his practice, testified Thomas “screamed and yelled” at him, repeatedly threatened to throw him in jail and bragged that only he was allowed to drive that fast. Seto claimed he was handcuffed with “extreme force” and that the shackles caused “extreme pain.”

His defence lawyer, Deborah Hatch, submitted photographs of Seto’s wrists to the court.

Seto claimed he was compliant and apologetic, and that the officer yelled in response: “Sorry isn’t good enough.”

The doctor said the officer confiscated the contents of his pockets, including his medical pager, then tossed him into the back of the cruiser and lectured him about speeding for 45 minutes.

“He was intimidating me,” Seto said.

“I was humiliated. I was belittled.”

Immediately after the incident, Seto drove to his lawyer’s house. Seto’s friend, Jeny Yee, was in the car with Seto and largely confirmed his version of events.

Thomas, a 10-year veteran of the force, testified he was concerned for officer safety during the arrest, in part because Seto’s vehicle had accelerated so quickly away from the police cruiser parked at the stoplight. The officer said he did not check to see who owned the car before using the bullhorn to order Seto out of the car and did not know the driver was of Asian descent.

Thomas acknowledged he had a “heated” conversation with Seto but couldn’t recall exactly what was said during the arrest because he took no notes.

He testified he placed his pinky finger between the cuffs and Seto’s wrists to ensure they weren’t too tight, and denied dragging the doctor by his cuffed hands to the car.

He told the court he seized the pager because he has known criminals who conceal weapons in all kinds of apparently harmless items, such as cellphones and belt buckles.

When Hatch directly asked him whether he believed he was dealing with an Asian drug dealer, Thomas flatly denied it.

“That didn’t even cross my mind once,” he said.

The case returns to court today.

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