What was supposed to be a simple Star Wars Day promotion for a local pub in Alberta, Canada turned into a tense situation when local police drew their guns and arrested a 19-year old Stormtrooper cosplayer named Ashley.
Coco Vanilla Galactic Cantina owner Bardley Whalen told Lethbridge News Now (LNN) how it all began, “We had music playing in the parking lot, we had one of our staff dress up as a stormtrooper kind of waving to people walking up and down the road, we had people stopping by and getting pictures with the stormtrooper, we put a couple of promotions on in the restaurant to entice people to come.”
Lethbridge News Now reported that a female employee arrived at the establishment at 10:00 am on Monday, May 4 and was in her Stormtrooper outfit 20 minutes later.
However, the Lethbridge Police Service reportedly received two 911 calls for a firearms complaint. They dispatched a number of officers.
At approximately 11:20 am, three police cruisers arrived on the scene. A short while later a truck also arrived.
In a video uploaded to YouTube by Deiby Corleoni, Lethbridge Police can be seen drawing their weapons on the Stormtrooper cosplayer, who has their hands in the air and gun prop already on the ground.
You can hear the police officers telling the cosplayer to “Get down on the ground.”
After being issued the command a number of times, you can see the cosplayer get down on her knees. However, that wasn’t satisfactory as a female officer can be heard saying again, “Get down on the ground.”
The cosplayer looks confused given she’s already on the ground. The officer then clarifies, “On your belly.”
You can then see Whalen come outside and tell the officers that the gun prop is plastic. He states, “It’s a plastic gun.”
The video then shows the cosplayer face down on the sidewalk with three officers handcuffing her. As the officers continue to stand over the cosplayer, you can hear her begin audibly sobbing.
After handcuffing the cosplayer the police then have her sit up and remove her helmet. One of the officers confronts the man recording and then proceeds to move his truck to block him from filming the encounter.
Whalen described the encounter, “Police officers had guns drawn, pointed at my employee. They were yelling at her to put the gun down so she threw the plastic gun on the ground. At that point in time when I came out, she was on her knees kneeling down on the ground.”
He added, “The police had already checked and seen that the gun was plastic so they already knew that there wasn’t an issue or a risk there.”
Whalen also detailed that is was difficult for her to obey the initial order to get on the ground due to the costume.
He stated, “She kept yelling at them that she couldn’t kneel down because, in that stormtrooper costume, you can’t even sit down in it, like it’s impossible to sit down. She kept telling them that she couldn’t get down is what she explained to me after we talked to her.”
He added, “It wasn’t a matter of her not wanting to cooperate. She dropped the gun when they told her to and just forcing her, making her get down on the ground after they determined that she wasn’t a risk and that the gun wasn’t even a real gun, it was a plastic Star Wars blaster.”
Whalen detailed to CTV News that his employee suffered a bloody nose when she was taken to the ground. He supplied a photo to LNN showing blood on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant.
Lethbridge Police Service Inspector Jason Walper offered a different narrative about the encounter.
Walper told LNN, “Any time our officers are responding to something that’s very spontaneous where there’s a weapon involved, our first responsibility is to ensure we can create a safe environment for the officers, for the public, and the individual itself.”
He added, “So certainly, their first response is to deal with that weapon and remove the weapon from the person, take the person into custody, and then allow us to follow up with that investigation to determine exactly what occurred.”
When describing how officers handled the situation and how the cosplayer responded he stated, “The person did not comply with the police verbal directions. Eventually, they did after multiple repeated orders given by the police officers.”
He added that officers “pushed the individual down to the ground” in order to put handcuffs on her.
The cosplayer was arrested and placed in the back of a police cruiser. However, she was released at the scene with no charges against her.
Whalen criticized the police for their handling of the situation saying they should have dealt with the situation with “common sense and self-control.”
He added, “She must be traumatized. She’s got guns pointed at her because she came to work today to dress up as a stormtrooper to promote Star Wars Day and she lasted an hour before she had guns pointed at her. I’m sitting here wondering, what are people thinking about my business now?”
After the incident gained widespread attention due to the video, Lethbridge’s chief of police is calling for an investigation into the officer’s actions.
CTV News reports that “Chief Scott Woods initiated an investigation under the Alberta Police Act to determine whether the responding officers ‘acted appropriated within the scope of their training and LPS policies and procedures.'”