‘My faith in the justice system is shaken now’

Ken Thomas poses in this Submitted photo.

Athlete raised in Cumberland House, P.A. alleges Saskatoon Police laughed at him, dropped him off at city outskirts after accusing him of rummaging through vehicles

A man who grew up in Cumberland House and Prince Albert has had his faith in the justice system shaken after allegedly falling victim to a case of racial profiling in Saskatoon.

Ken Thomas was out with his girlfriend at the Nelly and T-Pain concert in Saskatoon on Saturday. After the show, they went back to a bar, Stan’s Place, located on the city’s south side. Thomas said he had stepped out for a cigarette, when he was approached by a group of police officers in a dark SUV.

The officers allegedly told Thomas he fit the description of someone who had been digging around in vehicles.

“They detained me,” Thomas said.

“I complied, because I didn’t want to pick up a charge.”

Thomas coaches youth running and other sports. He said a criminal charge could mean he wouldn’t be able to coach youth. Thomas said he “absolutely” felt like he was racially profiled.

“I complied with them, they detained me in the back of their squad car, drove me to the outskirts of town, and from there I had to run home in order to stay warm. I only had a tracksuit on.”

Thomas alleged the police dropped him off in the Stonebridge neighbourhood, at the corner of Highway 11 and Preston Avenue.

He alleged the officers laughed at him before driving away. Thomas felt humiliated. He had been ready to call a taxi and go home. He had change, and a cellphone.

“I was ready to call it a night,” he said.

“My girlfriend was waiting for me inside. She thought I had left. But instead, police took me to the outskirts of town and gave me the starlight tour.”

Thomas used to run in many events, often sponsored by Fresh Air Experience in Prince Albert. He has completed police half-marathons and donated blood. He’s gone down some dark paths, and is hoping to help show kids they don’t have to get involved in gangs and crime. He coaches sports for the Saskatoon Tribal Council, and was hoping to start a series of running clubs for at-risk youth in cities such as Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert, eventually expanding to the north.

He told the Daily Herald back in March that he was hoping to explore the possibility of teaming up with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) to hold a series of runs for youth, including events in Little Red.

“I want to get something going, especially with all this negativity,” Thomas said in March.

“I want to give (youth) something to look forward to, in regards to athleticism. Whatever they want to do, it’s all for the kids. It takes somebody to go out of their way and make time for them and show them that they’re worth it.”

Thomas has used running as an outlet, and encourages other kids to do the same. He said he has, in the past, encouraged youth to see police in a positive light.

After this incident, he’s not sure he can do that anymore.

“My faith in the justice system is shaken now,” Thomas said.

“My job as a coach, a youth advocate, is to provide kids comfort. Kids don’t feel like they can trust the police, and I always try to put a positive spin on what’s gong on. Now, what am I supposed to tell the kids? My perspective on the justice system — they definitely lost my respect and trust. It’s not okay to do that. I feel really betrayed.”

Since Saturday night, Thomas has filed a formal complaint. He’s also on the hunt for legal representation. He doesn’t feel comfortable going to the police station, unless he has a lawyer or other witness present. He’d like to, at some point, sit down with Saskatoon Police Chief Troy Cooper and talk about what happened.

“They’re just going to try to belittle and intimidate me,” Thomas said.

“This is not ok, and it happens all the time. It’s not ok to be stereotyped. I just wanted to help the kids. Now I see where they’re coming from. I gave (police) the benefit of the doubt. I’m brave enough to come forward, but how many people have they intimidated?”

A spokesperson from the Saskatoon police confirmed a complaint had been filed. She said the incident is under investigation.

The Saskatoon Police Service also “considers allegations such as this to be very serious in nature,” the emailed statement said.

“We have been notified that a formal complaint with the PCC (Public Complaints Commission) has been filed and due to that, we are limited in what we can say. We will cooperate fully with their investigation to ensure that every effort is made to ensure a thorough and complete investigation. Part of that investigation will include the review of GPS logs that track the location of patrol vehicles at any given time, as well as the in-car camera video, which is automatically activated when the back door of a patrol car is opened. Any further requests for comments will need to be directed to the PCC.”

The term starlight tour, or starlight tours, refers to Saskatoon police officers detaining Indigenous people and dropping them off on the outskirts of the city, instead of bringing them back to a holding cell or a police station.

In 2004, the public inquiry into the freezing death of Neil Stonechild in Saskatoon in November 1990 found that former Saskatoon police officers Larry Hartwig and Brad Senger had Stonechild – a 17-year-old Indigenous boy – in their custody on the night of his death.

The first reported case of a Saskatoon police officer engaging in the practice referred to as starlight tours was that of Bruce Bolton, who committed the act and was fined for it in 1969.

With files from Evan Radford, Daily Herald