Police didn’t use excessive force on a man who admitted he had “gone squirrely” and led Mounties on a high speed chase through downtown Campbell River while high on cocaine and alcohol, a provincial court judge has ruled.
The July 30, 2016 incident concluded with police officers and police service dog Gator piled on top of the driver in a chaotic altercation on the ground in which punches were thrown, a baton was swung and Gator bit the driver.
This brought to a conclusion a high-speed car chase through the downtown and the adjacent Campbellton area in which the driver side-swiped a parked vehicle with somebody in it, police cruisers rammed and spun the escaping vehicle in an attempt to stop him and then a spike belt was deployed to ultimately bring the vehicle to a halt, after which the driver was forcibly removed from the vehicle.
A hearing was held to determine if the charter rights of the driver in the situation, Shane Willie Bob Roberts, then 41, had been violated.
Roberts had pleaded guilty to:
- Failure to stop a motor vehicle as soon as was reasonable in order to evade a peace officer;
- Operating a motor vehicle in a manner that was dangerous to the public;
- Having care and control of a motor vehicle while his ability to operate it was impaired by alcohol or a drug;
- Being the driver of a motor vehicle on a highway and failing to come to a safe stop when signalled or requested by a peace officer and a peace officer pursued him in order to require him to stop.
Roberts is also charged with assault of three peace officers on the night in question with intent to resist lawful arrest, namely Const. David Dormuth, Const. Kurt England and Const. Ian Gammie.
Roberts alleged that the arresting officers used excessive force and violated his s. 7 Charter right to life, liberty and security of person and was seeking a judicial stay of proceedings pursuant to s. 24(1) of the Charter or a reduction in sentence.
The police officers involved in the arrest, including the dog handler, Const. England, say the use of force in this instance was necessary and reasonable and they were justified in using force to effect a lawful arrest. All the evidence was given in a voire dire that took place over approximately one year. The judge in the case, Barbara Flewelling, delivered her decision on the case on Dec. 19 in Campbell River Provincial Court and her written reasons were released this week.
Judge Flewelling ruled that Roberts’ charter rights were not violated and the police officers involved did not use excessive force.
“I find that the force used during the arrest of Mr. Roberts was not excessive,” the judge wrote.
The incident began just before 11 p.m. on July 30, 2016 when Const. (now Cpl.) Kyle Ushock was conducting a patrol through the parking lot at Riverside Liquor Store and saw a vehicle covered with a thick layer of dust stopped there. Const. Ushock pulled in and set up a static surveillance during which he saw two men leave the liquor store and get into the car.
Record and licence checks of the car showed it was registered to Shane Roberts and had been inactive since March 2016. Const. Ushock decided to conduct a traffic stop and approached the passenger side of the car and spoke to the passenger. Looking in, he saw two open cans of Budweiser in the centre console and smelled beer.
The constable asked the driver for licence and insurance and to turn off the vehicle. He saw the driver’s feet move rapidly and the driver put the manual transmission into gear, saying “I’m sorry, I can’t,” and took off, the judge said. Const. Ushock quickly pulled himself out of the vehicle he was leaning into, narrowly escaping being hit by the centre post between the windows.
Roberts drove off at a high rate of speed and Const. Ushock followed in his cruiser with sirens, emergency lights and his howler. He radioed out what had occurred and pursued Roberts. He attempted to box Roberts in with his cruiser but the resultant collision broke the tie rod end of the cruiser and disabled it.
At that pointed the pursuit was continued by constables England, Dormuth and Gammie.
“I have watched the dash cam videos – clearly Mr. Roberts was intent on evading arrest and capture,” Judge Flewelling wrote.
Roberts drove his car through red lights and stop signs without slowing or stopping and swerved around corners at high speed. He drove in the oncoming lanes and at one point struck a pickup truck parked on the side of the road.
Roberts drove all around the downtown and Campbellton areas through residential, business and commercial areas of the city including Old Peterson Road, Ironwood Street, Homewood Road, Cheviot Road, 14th Avenue, 16th Avenue and Shopper’s Row, “to name a few,” the judge said.
Const. Ushock deployed his spike belt while getting updates from the other officers on the radio. At 11:08 p.m., Roberts hit the spike belt which deflated both driver’s side tires. Roberts continued to flee at a high rate of speed, running, essentially, on the rims. He finally stopped on 16th Avenue, close to Ironwood St.
Ushock, whose disabled vehicle was 500 metres away, ran to the scene. When he arrived he saw Roberts had been taken out of the car and was on the ground. Three or four police officers were attempting to handcuff Roberts. During the effort to pull Roberts out of his car, he had been punched and hit with a baton as well as had Gator sicced on him, during which the dog bit him in the leg.
When later, while giving his statement at the police detachment, he was asked why he didn’t stop. Roberts told Const. Ushock that his “head just went squirrely,” the judge wrote.
He admitted he had used “a couple of rails” of cocaine and a puff of marijuana and had drunk about 12 beer earlier. He said he had a $100 bag of cocaine on his possession and was nervous and so he took off.
At one point during the altercation, people came out of nearby houses. There was also an unleashed dog which distracted Gator momentarily. The civilians were ordered to get back in their houses and some were not following “aggressive commands from the officers to withdraw.”
Roberts defence counsel argued the officers’ actions were excessive, particularly pertaining to striking Roberts after he had been handcuffed. Roberts’ defence also involved saying he was cooperative and, in fact, he was surrendering to the police.
The judge said there was no evidence to support that Roberts had been struck after being handcuffed and there were many inconsistencies with Roberts’ evidence.
“I will say that in general, I prefer the evidence of the officers to that of Mr. Roberts,” the judge wrote.
The judge added later that, “I do not accept Mr. Roberts’ evidence that when his vehicle came to a stop, he had simply given up and put his hands in a position that indicated he was surrendering.”
The judge also disagreed that the blows Roberts received amounted to grievous bodily harm and nor did the dog’s bite. The situation warranted the use of the dog because there were reasonable grounds to believe that Roberts was intent on fleeing after his car was finally stopped.
It was also argued that there was a cover-up of the incident, which the judge also dismissed.
As an aside, as a result of the dog’s bite, Roberts discovered he was suffering from diabetes and that the bite injury resulted in serious complications involving numerous hospital visits.
“This is not a case in which officers applied gratuitous force to someone after arrest and who was already under control, compliant or cooperative,” Judge Flewelling wrote.