London’s police chief says he will review how officers treated a popular online transgender activist they arrested at gunpoint last week after someone sent death threats to politicians in the southwestern Ontario city.
Clara Sorrenti, 28, who goes by Keffals on Twitch, says officers came to her apartment on Aug. 5, armed with large firearms, and called her by her birth name, which she has not used in a decade. Officers also referred to Sorrenti by the wrong gender, something she says was an attempt to mock her or take away her “power and dignity.”
“We acknowledge the distress that this has caused Ms. Sorrenti and we will be reviewing the occurrence to understand how that might have happened,” Chief Steve Williams said in a statement Wednesday, a day after Sorrenti told her 42,000 social media followers about her ordeal.
“The London Police Service is committed to bias-free policing and treating all individuals with respect and dignity.”
Williams was not available for an interview, but he cut his vacation short to deal with the incident, which has caused outrage from the transgender community in Canada and the United States.
Sorrenti believes she is the victim of swatting — a form of harassment that involves someone calling in a threat, resulting in armed officers being sent to another person’s home or work.
“When something is reported, police have to take it seriously. They need to investigate it,” said former London police chief Murray Faulkner, who now speaks about policing matters. “It’s one of those Catch-22 situations. If they didn’t go and something had happened, boy oh boy.”
The head of the London Police Services Board, which oversees the department, called the incident and the use of the wrong gender and name “deeply concerning.”
“The use of a proper name goes to the very dignity and respect that the chief mentions in his statement,” said chair Susan Toth, who is also a human rights lawyer. “It’s critical that anyone who has any interaction with police is treated with dignity and respect.”
Toronto police also involved
London police say they were contacted on Aug. 5 by city hall officials about violent threats, and started an investigation that resulted in Sorrenti being arrested and the seizure of electronic devices. Police had her in their custody for 11 hours, Sorrenti said.
Five days later, on Wednesday, she was able to retrieve those electronics from police headquarters.
Sorrenti said someone was using her former name and address to send the threats to London city councillors while also confessing to a murder.
Toronto police were also aware of emails being sent to officials in that city on July 31. Sorrenti was contacted by Toronto officers, and she said they chalked up the threats to an attempted swatting incident. The Toronto police investigation remains open.
Sorrenti said her brother called London police in March to warn them she could be targeted by online trolls, due to her high-profile social media presence.
On Twitch, where people can broadcast themselves playing video games, Keffals speaks about American anti-trans legislation and transgender rights. Sorrenti transitioned when she was a teen. She was recently profiled in the Washington Post.
Williams said police officers do work closely with the LGBT2QSIA community in London.
“We acknowledge that despite our best efforts, we may fall short at times and in those situations, we learn, we educate, and we do better.”