TORONTO, Canada — Adam Trombetta was obviously expecting a few laughs when he legally changed his family name to Nobody. Unfortunately for him, Toronto police officers aren’t known for their sense of humor.
Nobody’s misfortune became the talk of the town last week when the Special Investigations Unit — a government-appointed body that investigates police forces in Ontario — ruled he was the victim of a “probable use of excessive force” by members of the Toronto Police Service.
The incident dates back to the G20 summit last June, when 20,000 police officers essentially locked down much of downtown Toronto in an overzealous bid to protect leaders of the world’s largest economies. When a small group of protesters smashed a few shop windows, riot police arrested more than 1,100 people.
Most of those arrested were protesting peacefully — like a 57-year-old man who had his prosthetic leg pulled off by police. Some were bystanders who found themselves at the wrong place at the wrong time. Fewer than 40 people have been charged with G20-related offenses.
Civil rights groups continue to call for a public inquiry into what they denounce as a massive abuse of police powers. The federal government has rejected such calls. But the Special Investigations Unit and other agencies have been looking at individual complaints, such as Adam Nobody’s.
Nobody, who works building stages, told the Globe and Mail he was making a joke protest sign when he looked up and saw a group of police officers rushing him. They tackled him and dragged him behind a police van.
Nobody, 27, said one officer had a boot on his head when another asked him his name.
"Adam,” he replied.
“Adam what,” the officer reportedly said.
“Adam Nobody,” he replied.
Nobody said the officer suddenly kicked him twice in the face, shouting, “Stop being a smartass.” The officer then pulled Nobody’s ID out of his pocket.
“Shit,” the officer reportedly said. “This guy really is a Nobody.”
Nobody told the Globe and Mail he changed his name two years ago strictly for the pun value — as in, “Nobody was hurt in the incident.” He suffered a shattered cheekbone and a broken nose.
The alleged beating occurred away from prying eyes. But Nobody’s arrest moments before was filmed by a bystander.
The video led the Special Investigations Unit to conclude that police probably used excessive force. The unit's director, Ian Scott, said an officer appears to make a “striking motion” with a closed fist, which may have caused a fracture below Nobody’s right eye.
Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair went on local radio to lash out at the conclusion. He insisted the video had been tampered with, and suggested Nobody had been armed. A day later, he publicly apologized.
“This statement created a false impression that I wish to clarify,” Blair said. “I have no evidence that he was armed or violent and all charges against the injured man have been withdrawn. I regret the false impression that my comments may have created and apologize to Mr. Nobody.”
Last month, Nobody saw his assault charge dropped after prosecutors conceded they had no evidence. They couldn’t even find the officer who arrested Nobody. The police badge number listed on the arrest sheet doesn’t correspond to anyone on the Toronto force.
The Special Investigations Unit didn’t lay charges against the arresting officers. The agency’s investigators were unable to learn the identity of those who might have used excessive force in arresting Nobody. Officers who might have shed light on the incident refused to testify.
Indeed, some have noted a pattern suitable to police states. Blair has acknowledged that at least 90 Toronto police officers are being disciplined for having removed their name tags from their uniforms during the G20 summit. One picture in the Toronto Star showed an officer with no name tag putting the boot to a protester.
In these cases, no identity results in no accountability. When police officers are asked who among them used excessive force during the G20, they’re able to say, ‘nobody did it.'”