Former CFL player forgives cops who assaulted him

Former CFL player forgives cops who assaulted him

How can the victim of a heinous crime unconditionally forgive the perpetrators?

To do that, it takes an extremely special person which is what Orlando Bowen is.

In March 2004 while on his phone in a parking lot behind a Mississauga night club waiting for friends to celebrate a new contract he signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League (CFL), the motivational speaker and community worker was confronted and brutally beaten by two Peel plainclothes police officers.

Prior to the vicious attack, Bowen had conducted racial sensitivity training with Peel Regional Police and worked with Peel Crime Stoppers.

“They asked me if I had drugs, I told them no and returned to my phone call,” Bowen said in the keynote address at the second annual Wrongful Conviction Day event last Friday at the Law Society of Upper Canada. “When they accosted me, I was scared and started to run. That’s when I heard the words, ‘Stop or I will Shoot’. I stopped and asked, ‘What did I do?’, and the response was a right cross to my face.”

He said one of the officers grabbed his torso and drove his knees into his left leg.

“He said he was going to break my f…… leg,” Bowen recounted. “I knew if that was the case, I couldn’t go down. I had to stand up. As they were trying to grab my arms, I pulled one of them free. One of the officers moved away about 10 feet, turned around and looked at me. He then turned to his partner and said, ‘I am going to shoot him in the head’. I believed him.” 

Left with a concussion, a nasty gash on his forehead and blackened eyes, Bowen was arrested and carted off to jail. He alleged at the time that one of the officers – Sheldon Cook -- planted drugs on him.

The cop was found guilty of seven criminal charges in June 2010, including charges related to the disappearance of fake cocaine that was being used in a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) sting and was sentenced to five years and eight months.

“When Cook was convicted, some friends called and said we should go out and celebrate,” said Bowen the executive director of One Voice, One Team, which empowers young people to utilize their leadership gifts and talents through sport and fun activities. “I said I couldn’t because he’s going off to prison. He’s a father like me and he’s a husband like I am. I can’t celebrate someone else’s pain.”

A year ago, Cook -- who was on bail after launching appeals following his conviction -- abandoned his appeals and surrendered to police.

Bowen was acquitted of drugs and police assault charges in 2005 and a $14.6 million lawsuit he filed against the Peel Regional Police and several officers was settled out of court.

The former linebacker, who was honoured with a Harry Jerome Award last year for distinguished community service, wrote a letter to Cook and Grant Gervais, the other officer that assaulted him, that he shared with the audience at the Wrongful Conviction Day event.

“To my brothers Sheldon and Grant, life is a game and we can win this thing,” he told them. “I come to you humbled and broken, yet with a calming peace. I apologize for blaming you for my feelings, anger, disappointment and malintent towards you, towards life, and towards the system during this ordeal…I want to courageously express the fact that I am thankful, grateful and forever indebted to you for this experience as it has forever changed my life. It has made me a better father, a better husband, a better human being and someone who can fully understand what it means to feel alone, broken and like the weight of the world is on my shoulders…I love you guys unconditionally and embrace you with every fibre of my being…Please know that you are forgiven 100 per cent and loved 99 per cent.”

Born in Montego Bay, Bowen migrated at age three and attended Brampton Centennial Secondary School where he excelled in basketball, soccer, football and track and field. He earned a full scholarship to Northern Illinois University where he secured an undergraduate degree in business marketing and a master’s in information technology management. 

The 2012 DiverseCity fellow spent five seasons in the CFL with the Argos and Hamilton Tiger-Cats before the concussion he suffered at the hands of police forced him to quit the sport. 

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