Montreal's police chief publicly apologized Friday to the man wrongfully arrested, charged and detained for almost a week in connection with an attack on a city police officer.
Chief Sylvain Caron said results from DNA analyses "allow us to exonerate" Mamadi III Fara Camara, who was arrested Jan. 28 after a police officer was allegedly disarmed and attacked following a traffic stop in Montreal's Parc Extension borough.
Caron said he spoke with Camara Friday. "We agreed to meet in the coming days so I can offer our most sincere apologies to him and his family for all the inconveniences tied to the unfortunate events of the last few days," he told reporters, reading from prepared statements.
"We are human, we sympathize with them," Caron said, about Camara's family. "My apologies, I offer them publicly."
Camara spent almost a week in detention when prosecutors on Wednesday dropped all the charges — including attempted murder of a police officer — after they said evidence had surfaced absolving him. The case prompted politicians and civil rights groups to demand an independent investigation.
Earlier on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was "concerned" about the arrest and described the case as "troubling," adding that he had confidence Quebec authorities will do what is needed to figure out what happened.
"I know the responsible authorities are very aware of the pressure that will be on them to figure out exactly what went wrong and to fully answer the questions of friends and family and citizens who are extremely worried about this troubling incident," he told reporters.
About 100 people gathered Friday evening in front of a subway station in the neighbourhood where Camara was arrested last week. Protesters condemned the arrest and called for an end to systemic racism, with many saying they didn't believe Camara would have been arrested if he was white.
Cassandra Williams, one of the protesters, said police need to be held accountable for their actions. The mother of two Black boys said she worries what would happen if her older son, a teenager, is confronted by a police officer.
“Hold them accountable like children, you do something wrong, you’re going to get punished,” Williams said. “Hold the police accountable, hold their bosses accountable.”
Montreal police said Friday the investigation into the assault is continuing and that they had found a vehicle they said they believe was driven by a suspect in the case. Const. Caroline Chevrefils said the red Hyundai Elantra was found in the city’s southwestern LaSalle borough and that detectives were interviewing witnesses in the area and checking if neighbourhood cameras captured images of the car or its driver.
In a statement issued Friday morning, the office of the director of prosecutions said prosecutors "in principle" are required to have a complete case before charges are laid. But, it added, it's "not exceptional" for charges to be laid early in the interest of public safety.
Audrey Roy-Cloutier, spokeswoman for the director of prosecutions, wrote that police arrested Camara based on information provided by the officer who was attacked and from circumstantial evidence. She said the charges were filed at the request of police.
Roy-Cloutier said prosecutors received new evidence Feb. 3 and that after reviewing it, came to the conclusion it was no longer possible to support the charges against Camara.
Mayor Valerie Plante on Thursday denounced the detention of Camara — who is Black — as "unacceptable" and said any eventual independent investigation should examine whether racial profiling played a part.
Yves Francoeur, head of the Montreal police brotherhood, accused the mayor of “political interference” in the ongoing police investigation. In a letter to Plante Friday, the union head said her decision to discuss racial profiling in connection with the case was “extremely deplorable."
“In doing so, you throw oil on the fire, undermine the social climate and complicate even more the task of those responsible for ensuring the safety of Montrealers,” Francoeur wrote.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press