A protest was held in downtown Barrie today as people showed support for the man whose violent arrest was captured on video and widely circulated on social media, putting the city in the national spotlight for what many people say was excessive force used by police.
On Thursday afternoon, 20-year-old Skyler Kent was arrested by Barrie police after witnesses said he was ticketed for going through a red light on his skateboard at the Five Points. The arrest occurred on Dunlop Street East in front of Meridian Place, the exact spot where protesters gathered Saturday to show their outrage at what transpired.
Saturday's protest started at 11 a.m. and at one point saw 50 people at Meridian Place, socially distanced and wearing masks, many holding skateboards and signs saying 'Skateboarding Is Not A Crime'.
At one point in Thursday's arrest video, the officer flips the young man over and strikes him in the back of the head.
Another video shows the officer on top of the man with a taser to his shoulder. The officer asks, “Do you want this?” followed by “Put your hands behind your back right now or I’m lighting you up.”
Bystanders can be heard asking the man to stop resisting, as well as telling the responding officers that it was excessive force.
Kent has been charged with causing a disturbance and assault with attempt to resist arrest. He was released on a promise to appear in court and an undertaking.
On Friday, Barrie Police Chief Kimberley Greenwood said she has called in Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Professional Standards Unit to investigate the Dunlop Street arrest and conduct of the Barrie police officer involved.
Samantha Grisdale, who identified herself to BarrieToday as Kent's sister, was at Saturday's protest. Grisdale, who found out about her brother's arrest on social media, said she doesn't "stand for any of it.”
“It was heartbreaking to see my brother getting attacked, and that's what this was — an attack,” Grisdale said Saturday. “He does have a little bit of a concussion and some blurred vision, but other than that he is mentally OK.”
Grisdale says Kent was not offered medical treatment when he was brought to the police station, and she attempted to take him to Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) on Friday.
“Unfortunately, when he went to the police station they didn't offer him any medical help,” Grisdale told BarrieToday. “Yesterday, I did bring him to the emergency room to get looked at, but it took long so he didn't actually get treated.”
Grisdale says she understands why police had to charge her brother, but does not believe the level of force used during the arrest was appropriate.
“I get why the cops want to charge him, but it shouldn't have come to where it did. He did get brutally attacked by an officer and all for going through a red light, which he got a ticket for,” she said. “He was trying to go home — he does live on Dunlop, so he was almost home. And really, the way to look at it is he got attacked on his way home.”
While Kent has said he was "not proud" of how he handled himself and says he could have been calmer, he has also admitted he had choice words for the officer after the ticket was issued.
Grisdale said: “Should the cop be trained to ignore that and move on?”
On the night of the arrest, a witness told BarrieToday the incident initially started down the street when Kent went through a red light at the Five Points on his skateboard. After receiving the ticket, the young man began skateboarding again eastbound on Dunlop Street.
“That's where the cop car chased him down and swerved in front of him,” Kelly Platt said. “I heard him asking the officer why he was still bothering him after he already gave him a ticket.”
Dustin O’Donnell, who lives and works downtown and says he saw the incident happen, said the force used during the arrest seemed unnecessary from the beginning.
O’Donnell, who was one of many people who filmed the incident, also says it's a stain on the community he loves.
“I feel like Barrie is getting a bad reputation lately, between this and the tragedy at Roberta Place,” he said. “It sucks, for sure.”
The OPP Professional Standards Unit wants to speak to anyone who was present at the time of the arrest. The OPP can be contacted at 1-888-310-1122.
In a statement released Friday, Greenwood said the decision to bring in the OPP was based on a need for transparency and accountability.
“I acknowledge the public’s concerns being expressed based on the limited availability of information at this time," she said. "I want to assure the community that any findings of misconduct will be pursued. I remain dedicated and supportive of our service and the continued professionalism of our members during times when our actions are questioned."