Manitoba RCMP officer’s knee on accused’s neck unnecessary, use of force expert testifies in assault trial

WINNIPEG — An expert who teaches use of force techniques to police officers across Canada and the United States told a Manitoba court it was unnecessary for an RCMP officer to place his knee on a man’s neck during an arrest captured on video two years ago at Winnipeg’s James Richardson International Airport.

“The neck is a very vulnerable part of our body,” Sgt. Kelly Keith, a veteran police officer of 33 years and a use of force instructor, told the court Monday. “There’s no need to keep our knee on somebody’s neck.”

Keith was called by a defence lawyer to testify in the assault trial for Nathan Lasuik, stemming from a confrontation outside the airport on Aug.1, 2019.

Two RCMP officers at the airport were responding to a report of an assault involving an intoxicated man.

Lasuik has pleaded not guilty to assault charges, arguing his Charter rights were breached due to the use of excessive force during his arrest. The officers’ actions are being investigated by Manitoba’s police watchdog, the Independent Investigation Unit, and the RCMP is conducting an internal review.

Cell phone video played in court that was captured by Lasuik’s father shows an RCMP officer who appears to be kneeling on Lasuik’s neck as he screams he can’t breathe. Lasuik was handcuffed and had been taken to the ground, stomach down.

“You’re breathing,” an officer can be heard yelling in the video. “When you’re talking, you’re breathing.”

Lasuik was pinned for the duration of the nearly five-minute-long cell phone video until Winnipeg police officers arrived and took him into custody.

Before the incident, security footage from the airport, which was also played in court, shows Lasuik striking an RCMP officer in the face and kicking an RCMP officer in the groin before Lasuik was taken to the ground.

The security video also shows Lasuik striking another individual at the airport which prompted the initial police response.

Keith told the court he has never taught or been taught to place a knee on someone’s neck.

“I don’t know of any training that officers are trained to go across the neck,” Keith testified. “Ever since 1988, I’ve never been taught or shown a technique to go across the neck.”

People have said they can’t breathe as a ruse to get free during arrests, Keith testified, referencing his own experiences as a police officer, but he pointed out at times during the video of Lasuik’s arrest he could be heard saying he could breathe.

“It makes the ruse a little less likely,” Keith told the court.

He testified given the totality of the circumstances and the minimal threat officers were facing at the time, the officer’s use of force was unnecessary.

Keith told the court an officer’s knee may end up on someone’s neck during a fight but he testified officers should reposition as soon as possible when that happens.

Crown attorney Thomas Boult isn’t contesting Keith’s expertise on the topic. During cross-examination, Boult suggested Lasuik was out of control because he was intoxicated.

Keith agreed Lasuik was unpredictable but stood by his testimony that the use of force, when the officer placed and kept their knee on Lasuik’s neck, was not necessary.

Boult suggested it would have been dangerous for the officer to reposition, but Keith disagreed, saying the two officers had the advantage with Lasuik handcuffed down on the ground.

Closing arguments in the trial are expected Monday afternoon.

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