Assault charges against three Winnipeg police officers have been stayed after the Crown determined that the court would most likely find the officers’ actions during a 2022 arrest within their duties.
“It would be easy for me to stand before the court and say something similar to: ‘The Crown simply does not have a reasonable likelihood of conviction,'” Crown attorney Brent Davidson said at a provincial court hearing on Tuesday.
“But in the spirit of transparency, I can say that the most likely outcome of this particular case is that the court would find that the actions of these officers were within the lawful execution of their duties,” Davidson said.
Const. Evan Fehr, Const. Barry Knudsen and Const. Tyler Rahn of the Winnipeg Police Service were charged with assault causing bodily harm after a man trying to steal a catalytic converter reported his eye socket was broken during an arrest on April 11, 2022.
The province’s police watchdog, the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba, started looking into the arrest a day later and recommended the charges earlier this year.
Davidson said there is little ambiguity about what happened that day, since video surveillance footage captured the incident.
He said an off-duty officer, who ultimately wasn’t charged, saw the man, who was later arrested, on Young Street at about 9:30 p.m. holding an electric saw.
The man fled and the officer chased him down Notre Dame Avenue, the court heard. As they neared the corner of Notre Dame and Isabel Street, the man turned toward the officer and swung the saw at his face.
The man missed, and the officer kicked at the man, who then dropped the saw.
The man took off running again but the officer caught him, resulting in a physical fight on the ground.
The man then punched the officer three times in the stomach before the officer struck him one to two times in the face, the court heard.
The struggle continued as the man removed an object from his waistband, which the officer believed to be a Taser-like weapon. Eventually, on-duty officers, including constables Fehr, Knudsen, Rahn, and a fourth officer who wasn’t charged, arrived and took over.
The off-duty officer told them the man had a weapon, and he was forced onto his stomach with his hands unsecured beneath his body.
Const. Knudsen delivered four to five kicks to the man’s leg, while Const. Rahn and Const. Fehr each delivered a kick to the man’s upper body.
The man was then handcuffed and officers stopped striking the man.
Crown enters stay
Davidson said none of the three officers charged appeared to have struck the man in the face, which is where the man was found to be injured after being transported to the Health Sciences Centre.
“Quite candidly, the chances of proving that the three officers played a role in the infliction of bodily harm is tenuous at best,” he said.
During the struggle with the on-duty officers, which lasted about 14 seconds, Davidson said the officers used force against the man after they were told he had a weapon, and after the man’s hands were beneath his body and not visible.
Immediately after officers removed his hands from under him and saw that there was no weapon, “no strikes were done, thus the threat of all action ceased immediately, and the actions of the police officers ceased immediately,” Davidson added.
The Crown entered a stay of proceedings on the charges against the three officers, meaning while the charges are not formally withdrawn, they are not proceeding through court at this time. Should new evidence come to light within one year of the stay, the charges can be brought forward again.
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