An RCMP constable who pleaded guilty to an assault a Manitoba judge called “violent and excessive” will avoid a criminal record after being sentenced to a conditional discharge.
Const. Gregory Oke was convicted in a September 2018 incident where he punched an Indigenous man three times while responding to a call outside a homeless shelter in Thompson, Man.
According to provincial court Judge Murray Thompson’s sentencing decision, delivered earlier this month, the situation escalated when the man spat in Oke’s direction and the officer believed some of the spit landed on him.
That’s when Oke punched the man and arrested him for assaulting an officer — an incident the decision says was caught by surveillance video outside the shelter in the northern city.
A DVD of that video was submitted to the court as evidence.
The man was never formally charged and was released from custody the next morning. He had a small cut on the back of his head and no memory of what happened, the decision says.
Oke, 44, was later charged with assault following an investigation by the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba, which looks into serious incidents involving police.
He was sentenced to a year of supervised probation.
Thompson said his decision weighed the seriousness of the assault by a police officer against the facts that Oke took responsibility for his actions, had no criminal record and was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder linked to experiences on the job.
“At issue is the appropriate sentence for this offender, who is a police officer, and this offence, an assault against a vulnerable Indigenous man,” Thompson wrote.
Oke and his partner showed up to the shelter on Churchill Drive in Thompson, about 650 kilometres north of Winnipeg, on Sept. 12, 2018, to deal with an intoxicated woman who was refusing to leave the shelter’s porch, the sentencing decision says.
As police and bystanders struggled to help the woman stand, the man who was later assaulted — a bystander who was known to Oke “through prior dealings” — was seen speaking to the officers. The video shows he was unsteady on his feet.
Several witnesses said he was calling Oke and his partner names.
When police finally got the woman up, the man “spat once, possibly twice” in the officers’ direction.
Oke’s partner said some ended up on the woman and some on his own leg, while a witness said the man spat on the ground.
The judgment says while it isn’t clear from the video where it landed, Oke “absolutely believed spit landed on his face.” The decision notes the video shows the officer wiping his face, and he later told witnesses the man spat on him.
After the spit landed, Oke took four steps across the deck toward the man and hit him in the face three times with a closed fist, then stepped down onto the sidewalk and pulled the man’s arms off the railing, the decision said.
Oke then put his arm around the man’s neck from behind, lifting his chin up and back, and pulled him to the ground.
Oke told a supervisor before the assault he was under stress from being overexposed to traumatic events as an officer and overworked at an understaffed police detachment.
The sentencing decision notes that combination of factors was “no doubt a contributor to his aggressive response” and says letters from colleagues and a close friend made it clear the assault was seen as “very much out of character.”
Oke was later diagnosed with PTSD as “a direct result of his work environment” and has since undergone extensive treatment. He no longer meets the criteria for that condition.
The decision noted Oke has no criminal record, previous disciplinary proceedings against him or history of violence, and was assessed as being at a low risk to reoffend.
“This was not a deliberate leap into crime but rather was a response to a deliberate provocation that was out of proportion to the actual threat to officers and public safety,” the decision says.
“Spitting at a police officer is a disgusting act. It is clear the spitting triggered [Const.] Oke’s reaction.”
He also pleaded guilty, showing personal accountability and saving court resources at a time when they’re stretched, the judge said.
Oke has since faced career repercussions and hardships unrelated to the assault, the decision notes.
After the incident, he was transferred to another region, which meant his wife and two teenage children also had to move.
About seven months after the assault, Oke’s wife of 16 years died unexpectedly of a pulmonary embolism.
Oke was also punished by his employer after the incident, being docked two days of pay and barred from promotion until December 2021.
An RCMP spokesperson said on Friday Oke is currently on active duty in Portage la Prairie.
His sentence also includes 100 hours of community service and counselling as directed by probation services.
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