An Ottawa couple is officially complaining to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg today because they say they were arrested -- and the husband beaten -- by city police earlier this year while calmly munching on bagels in a park.
Paul Dehler, 45, a physiotherapy assistant at Saint Vincent's Hospital, says he was beaten by two undercover police officers who accused him of smoking marijuana. He says he was arrested, strip-searched, held in jail and charged with a series of offences.
Mr. Dehler's wife, Carol Gudz, 41, a Statistics Canada analyst, was also arrested and charged.
All charges against the couple have been dropped, but the process has left them shaken -- and out $5,000 U.S. in legal fees and travel expenses, an amount equivalent to one-fifth of Mr. Dehler's annual take-home salary.
"I don't drink, I don't smoke, we have an organic garden in the back. We're as clean as they come," said Mr. Dehler. "We met nothing but wonderful people until this incident, and then we thought we were in a bad Hollywood movie."
The couple flew to New York for New Year's. Jan. 2 was so warm, they stopped for a picnic lunch in tiny Cooper Square Park in Manhattan's East Village before going to the Museum of Modern Art.
While they were eating lunch, Mr. Dehler said he noticed a man in jeans and a turtleneck observing them.
"I thought that was a bit odd."
When they got up to leave, he said two men in jeans rushed at them.
"When they got within 10 or 15 feet, they said, 'Police, police!' and something I didn't understand, and then 'smoking marijuana'."
The men didn't look like police officers and the couple thought they were being mugged. Ms. Gudz started yelling for help.
Meanwhile, Mr. Dehler said the men grabbed him and punched him in the face. Only when he was on the ground, his face in the gravel, did he see their walkie-talkies and understand they were indeed police.
"I was frightened, but I wasn't belligerent," said Mr. Dehler. He said the couple was arrested and driven to Precinct 9.
"I got brought in front of this big bull sergeant who looks at me and says, 'Do you like to fight with cops up in Canada?' I said, 'I don't know what's going on. I'm willing to apologize to the arresting officer.' He interrupts me and says: 'If that was me arresting you, you would be in hospital right now.'
"He said, 'Take him in the back and strip search him and give him the whole nine yards."
Mr. Dehler and his wife say they were kept in jail for nearly 24 hours -- separately, each not knowing where the other was -- and denied access to a lawyer. He said police told them they could call a lawyer only if they knew the name and number of a New York lawyer, but police wouldn't give them a phonebook.
Ms. Gudz said she managed to get through to her sister in Ottawa, a police officer, and Mr. Dehler said he was able to hire "a jailhouse lawyer who was just a caricature -- he was a real cowboy," and who wanted $1,000 U.S. to represent them.
Meanwhile, a Good Samaritan who had seen the arrest and heard them say they were Canadian called the Canadian consulate. The couple said their time in jail was hellish.
Mr. Dehler, showing photos of his bruised face, said he was given a cursory medical examination by ambulance attendants five hours after his arrest and put into a cell with people smoking crack cocaine.
Ms. Gudz spent the night in a cell with 15 women -- and three mats.
"You don't go to sleep," she said.
Ms. Gudz was charged with resisting arrest and obstructing justice, but the charges were quickly dismissed. Mr. Dehler was charged with attempted assault, resisting arrest, harassment and disorderly conduct. He was released and returned to appear in a New York criminal court on Jan. 22.
At that time, he presented a negative drug test. His charges were later dismissed.
The couple won't condemn New York City as a whole. They say they are particularly grateful to the person who called the Canadian consulate.
"It's a beautiful city," said Ms. Gudz. "I love it. But I'm telling you, I don't want to go back there. I don't want to go back to that country."
"It was an awful experience," said Mr. Dehler. "We're collateral damage in the war on drugs."
Says their letter to Mr. Bloomberg: "Every Canadian who has heard our story has been horrified that law-abiding, well-intentioned tourists can suffer such a terrifying experience at the hands of NYC law enforcement authorities.
"My wife and I inform you of this incident with the expectation that your office will respond by taking the necessary measures to protect the safety and security of Canadians visiting your city."
The couple has also filed a formal complaint against the department. Last night, a police spokesman refused to confirm that, saying "I can't verify that for you because this investigation will be confidential."
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