Wednesday, November 16, 2016

ASIRT completes RCMP use of force investigation into Blackfalds area arrest

Govwernment of Alberta - On January 23, 2015, pursuant to s. 46.1 of the Police Act, the Director of Law Enforcement directed the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) to investigate the circumstances surrounding a broken rib and collapsed lung sustained by a 47-year-old man during an arrest on December 31, 2014.

On the evening of December 31, 2014, RCMP received a complaint of a red Dodge truck with a stolen licence plate on it near Blackfalds, Alberta. Officers were dispatched to attempt to locate the vehicle. The first officer travelling northbound on Range Road 28-4 observed an oncoming vehicle, a silver Dodge truck, proceeding southbound. The officer pulled his vehicle over and stopped. The oncoming vehicle stopped and then proceeded slowly with its high beams on. The officer found this odd and activated his overhead emergency lights and exited his vehicle to conduct a traffic stop. As the vehicle pulled alongside, it did not stop and actually struck the officer on the arm. Just as this was happening, a second RCMP officer in a separate vehicle had pulled up and activated his emergency overhead lights. After striking the officer, the truck drove past and fled southbound.

Both officers proceeded to pursue the truck, with the first officer in the police vehicle immediately behind the truck. During the pursuit, occupants of the truck could be seen throwing beer cans out the back cab window. As the first officer closed the distance between himself and the truck, he called in the pursuit to the RCMP Communications Centre. The truck proceeded straight through the “T” intersection at RR 28-4 and Aspelund Road, through a road sign and into the south ditch.

The three passengers in the vehicle, two women and the 47-year-old man, immediately exited the vehicle from the passenger side. The driver remained inside the vehicle. It would later be determined that the driver’s ability to operate a motor vehicle was impaired by alcohol.

The first officer directed the passengers to get on the ground. What happened thereafter is the subject of some dispute. The officer indicated the two women complied, but the 47-year-old man failed to follow directions and came towards the officer swearing. The officer stated he struck the man in the head with his service pistol when the man got too close. The man fell to the ground but refused to stay down as directed. The officer indicated he then kicked the man in the torso two to three times in an effort to gain control, at which point the man stayed on the ground and was handcuffed. The driver of the truck was unable to provide any evidence related to this incident as he had remained in the vehicle and had not seen the situation unfold. The two female passengers provided statements that the man was kicked while on the ground and they believed that the force used was unnecessary, but each woman’s description of the events was slightly different from the other. The man, himself, advised that he was kicked twice in the head, and three times in the ribs and momentarily lost consciousness. His version was inconsistent and irreconcilable with all other statements.

Immediately after the incident, the man complained of pain. He was charged, released, then treated and transported by emergency medical services to the Lacombe Hospital and Care Centre where he was assessed and released. Five days later, upon his condition worsening, he attended the Three Hills Health Centre where he was diagnosed with broken ribs and a collapsed lung. He was subsequently transferred to Red Deer Regional Hospital for admission and care.

ASIRT executive director, Ms. Susan D. Hughson, Q.C., received the completed investigative file. The evidence gathered from the four witnesses, including the officer and the man, was conflicting and contained inconsistencies. The most independent evidence was gathered from the two women as they are not closely associated to the man. Although it is believed that the evidence of the two female passengers was given to the best of their abilities and with a desire to be honest, its reliability was undermined by the fact that parts of their statements were demonstrably in error and contradicted by available video evidence, and the fact that the women had consumed alcohol.

It should also be noted that although the most reasonable inference is that the injuries were sustained as a result of the force used, the possibility that the injuries could have been caused by the single vehicle leaving the roadway, going through a sign and then into a ditch cannot be unequivocally eliminated.

After a careful review of all the evidence, Ms. Hughson has confirmed that there is no clear evidence that could provide reasonable grounds to believe the officer committed an offence.

ASIRT’s mandate is to effectively, independently, and objectively investigate incidents involving Alberta’s police that have resulted in serious injury or death to any person, as well as serious or sensitive allegations of police misconduct.

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