MONTREAL — A Black Montreal man wrongfully arrested, charged with attempted murder of a police officer and detained for six days says he's traumatized by the events that turned his life upside down in late January.
Mamadi III Fara Camara appeared Sunday on the popular Radio-Canada talk show, "Tout le monde en parle," with his lawyer Virginie Dufresne-Lemire — his first interview since being exonerated.
Camara told the program he wasn’t permitted to speak to his family while in detention and described a harrowing six days in jail waiting for the case to play out. He said when he arrived at the detention centre he felt the guards perceived him as a "monster."
He said it "was a great relief" to learn he had been cleared of all charges.
"... but I expected it because since the day of my arrest, I have never ceased to proclaim my innocence," Camara said. "If they had listened to me from that day to understand my story, maybe it would not have taken six days."
Camara was arrested Jan. 28 after a police officer was allegedly disarmed and attacked with his own service weapon, following a traffic stop in Montreal's Parc Extension borough.
He told the television hosts that after receiving a ticket for allegedly driving with a cellphone in his hand, he never left his vehicle. Dufresne-Lemire said for legal reasons, her client couldn't go any further into the details of the case, but said she could tell his story.
She said Camara had witnessed the assault on the officer and had called 911 from his car seat. A police officer who spoke to Camara at the scene took his story and told him he could leave, Dufresne-Lemire said.
The lawyer said by the time Camara got to his house — which wasn't far from the crime scene — the street was blocked off and he was stopped by police. The injured officer had suspected his attacker was the last person he had stopped for an alleged traffic violation, she said.
Dufresne-Lemire said what happened was a clear case of "tunnel vision" by police officers, who she said focused on the attacked officer's version of events and ignored other evidence — or lack thereof — in her client's case.
She said officers drew their weapons at Camara and pulled him out of his car through the car window. While he was on the ground, an officer put a foot on his head to immobilize him, Dufresne-Lemire said.
Following his arrest, she said an officer spoke to Camara and concluded in a written report that he was a witness. Camara nonetheless underwent hours of interrogations and was jailed for six days.
He was released after prosecutors said evidence had surfaced absolving him. A few days later, DNA evidence cleared Camara conclusively and Montreal's police chief apologized publicly Feb. 5. Chief Sylvain Caron also visited Camara's home and apologized to him personally.
No arrests have been made in the attack on the officer.
Camara is a graduate student who oversees a lab at Polytechnique Montreal. His wife is pregnant with twins. He was welcomed back to campus but said the trauma has so far prevented him from working.
The government has ordered an independent investigation into the case, led by Quebec Superior Court Justice Louis Dionne, slated to begin Feb. 22.
Dufresne-Lemire said a transparent process is needed to get to the bottom of what happened, and she has not ruled out launching a civil suit against authorities.
This story by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 15, 2021.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press