A self-described “old hippie” arrested at West Edmonton Mall after being asked to remove a Hells Angels support shirt says he is disappointed after losing an appeal to the Alberta Law Enforcement Review Board in the case.
Paul Sussman was taken to the ground by mall security on a Sunday afternoon in 2016. The 74-year-old, who was with his teenaged son, said security guards overreacted when he refused to take off his Hells Angels support hoodie.
Sussman also claims city police ignored his requests to file an assault complaint against the guards. He eventually filed a complaint against three Edmonton Police Service officers, which was dismissed Dec. 10.
The story begins Aug. 28, 2016, when Sussman was visiting the mall with his then 15-year-old son. Sussman wore a dark coloured hoodie. On the back in red lettering were the words “Support Your Local Big Red Machine,” emblazoned above a skull and crossbones.
Sussman and his son were eventually approached by two security guards, who asked him to remove the shirt or leave the property, citing the mall’s prohibition on gang paraphernalia.
Sussman refused. In an interview, he said he supports the motorcycle club for protecting him from an assailant in the 1960s. He picked up the shirt at the Hells Angels’ club house in Westridge, where he attends social functions at least a few times a year.
Additional security guards eventually arrived as Sussman exited a pet store. He locked arms with his son, but the guards managed to take him to the ground and handcuff him. Sussman was taken to the mall security office, where he spent several hours in a holding cell. His son was escorted off the property.
Police eventually arrived to deal with the mall’s trespassing complaint against Sussman. Sussman claims he told the police officers he wished to make an assault complaint against the security guards, but that they refused to provide him with a complaint form or investigate his allegations.
Sussman was released later that day without charges.
Sussman claims the mall had no publicly posted dress code in 2016, and that the guards acted arbitrarily (WEM’s dress code, posted on its website, prohibits gang-affiliated clothing).
“They (can) simply tell you to take your clothes off whenever they feel like it, I guess, and assault you if you refuse,” he said in an interview this week. “And the police don’t care.”
The day after the incident, Sussman and his son went to the west division police station and asked for a complaint form. Sussman, who was wearing the same shirt, said the officer at the counter refused to assist him and instead gave him the number for an EPS complaint line. According to Sussman, the complaint line dispatcher told him to contact the officers who attended the scene.
Sussman and his son filed a formal complaint with EPS one year later, alleging the three officers made no effort to investigate his allegations. In the complaint, he alleged the officers did not take him seriously, either because he was wearing a gang support hoodie or because the officers wanted to protect West Edmonton Mall security.
Chief Dale McFee dismissed the complaints in March 2018, saying there was insufficient evidence of misconduct on the part of the officers.
Sussman appealed to the arm’s-length Alberta Law Enforcement Review Board on April 14, 2018. The officers initially sought to have the appeal dismissed as frivolous and vexatious but were not successful.
Board members did eventually dismiss the appeal on Dec. 10, 2019, saying they were “satisfied that the chief took the appellant’s complaints seriously and disposed of them reasonably.”
Lawsuit against mall
Sussman, a psychologist who runs a clinic out of his home, was born in Berkeley, Calif., and came to Canada to pursue a PhD in his early 20s.
The year prior, he worked at a coffee house in the basement of the campus Christian centre at San Jose State College. There, he got to know several Hells Angels, who he refused to kick out despite pressure from his boss.
Later, when Sussman ran afoul of a member of another biker club, members of the San Jose Hells Angels chapter stayed at his house over a weekend to protect him.
“I never heard from that other bike club member again,” Sussman said. “I believe that the Hells Angels saved my life … they did right by me, and I support them.”
He added: “I’ve never had any problem with any Hells Angels or at any Hells Angels function. I’ve been to (their) Christmas parties. They’ve never been a problem for me, I’ve never been a problem for them.”
Sussman filed a lawsuit against the mall and six unnamed security guards in August 2018. In the statement of claim, Sussman alleges the guards tackled him to the floor, pressed a knee into the back of his neck and pulled his arms behind his back.
Sussman claims the incident was doubly frightening because he has a spinal injury resulting from a car accident in the ’70s. In the claim, he says he suffered brief quadriplegic episodes from time to time before undergoing surgery in 2010.
The mall and other defendants denied wrongdoing in a statement of defence filed in September, calling Sussman’s actions “an aggressive and belligerent refusal to leave the property.”
Statements of claim and defence contain allegations that have not been proven in court. No dates for trial have been set.