In his first public appearance since he was wrongfully arrested by Montreal police last month, Mamadi Ill Fara Camara said he was unable to speak to his family at all during the six days he spent in detention and that he remains deeply shaken by the ordeal.
“If they had listened to my story, maybe it wouldn’t have been six days,” Camara said on Radio-Canada’s Tout le monde en parle Sunday, where he appeared along with his lawyer, Virginie Dufresne-Lemire, and community activist Will Prosper.
“It was a relief to my entire family,” he said about his eventual exoneration, “because for those six days I was never allowed to speak to my family. Never.”
Camara, a 31-year-old PhD student, was arrested Jan. 28 after witnessing an attack on a police officer who had stopped him for driving while using a phone in Montreal’s Parc-Extension neighbourhood.
Not long after recounting what he saw to another officer, Camara was arrested near his home. Dufresne-Lemire said police pointed their weapons at Camara, who was pulled out of his car through the window and thrown to the ground. An officer put his foot on Camara’s head, she said.
The police focused on one lead and ignored the absence of other evidence, Dufresne-Lemire said. “The phenomenon of tunnel vision, in my view, is evident,” she said.
CBC News reached out to Montreal police on Sunday for comment on Dufresne-Lemire’s remarks, but they did not immediately respond.
Police have insisted Camara’s arrest was based strictly on the evidence, not profiling. But Dufresne-Lemire said “race played a role” in the way the story played out.
Prosper was more direct, positing whether someone in a more affluent neighbourhood would receive the same treatment. Prosper said police intercepted Camara on his way home from where he had witnessed the crime, yet still turned his apartment upside down to search for evidence — and then made the other residents of the apartment block leave to do the same.
‘My family knows who I am’
Camara said his experience at the Rivière-des-Prairies detention centre, where he was held, was “very traumatizing.”
“When I arrived I felt that all the guards there, it was like ‘it’s the cop killer,'” Camara recounted. “I was considered a monster.”
Camara was released on Feb. 4 when the Crown stayed the charges, and exonerated him two days later. He has since received an apology from Sylvain Caron, Montreal’s police chief.
Camara said his family — including his wife, who is pregnant with twins — was relieved by his exoneration. He added they had been strong throughout the ordeal.
“My family knows who I am,” he said. “And they knew I was innocent. Even though we couldn’t speak.”
Camara’s duties at his lab at École polytechnique de Montréal were suspended during the criminal proceedings and he was barred from campus. He said he has since been invited to go back when he is ready.
“Right now it’s very hard to return,” he said.
The Quebec government has announced it will hold an investigation into Camara’s arrest. Dufresne-Lemire said a lawsuit remains possible, but they are still studying their options.