A Fort McPherson man left with bruising after being repeatedly punched in the face has been found not guilty in Territorial Court of assaulting the RCMP officer who was hitting him.
In fact, Travis Jerome could have been acting in self-defence in response to “pain-control” techniques being used by Cst Scott Brian Thomas, Chief Judge Robert Gorin determined in a recent written decision.
“I found that based on the evidence there existed a realistic possibility that Officer Thomas was applying excessive force to Mr Jerome immediately prior to the minor motion I observed,” stated Gorin in his decision, dated March 23.
“I found additionally that the Crown had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr Jerome was not acting in self-defence when he made that motion.
“Based on all of the evidence presented in this case, I was and remain far from being sure that Mr Jerome punched or attempted to punch Constable Thomas.”
The altercation between Jerome and Thomas occurred at the police detachment in Fort McPherson on October 25, 2019.
Thomas and his partner, Cst Jenna Moore, had just arrested Jerome after responding to an early-morning call about a domestic dispute between Jerome and his girlfriend.
While being transported to the detachment, an apparently intoxicated Jerome became “angry and belligerent” in the patrol vehicle, stated Gorin.
“Mr Jerome yelled and screamed and cursed the police. He banged on the partition between the back seat and front seats of the truck. This conduct continued with Mr Jerome screaming while he was being transported to the detachment.
“Once at the detachment, Mr Jerome became cooperative and walked on his own up to the cell block area. When the police required him to wait at the guard’s desk, he started to become belligerent again, swearing at the police.”
Arm and wrist lock
Thomas, with help from his partner Moore, placed Jerome in a cell and had him lie down on his stomach in order to removed the handcuffs and search him.
A struggle ensued, resulting in Thomas losing control of both of Jerome’s arms. Jerome then rolled away from Thomas onto his back and attempted to punch the officer.
Thomas responded to Jerome’s “blow or attempted blow” by punching Jerome in the face “with a closed fist two times … a third and fourth time,” stated Gorin.
“Constables Thomas and Moore managed to get Mr Jerome on his belly. However, Mr Jerome somehow remained on his back trying to get up and attempting to fight. Constable Thomas believes he punched Mr Jerome again.”
The officers eventually left the cell and locked the door. The entire incident had been recorded on video.
“What I observed in the video was Constable Thomas lifting Mr Jerome’s right arm up behind his back in a position so extreme that it must have been causing a great deal of pain at the shoulder joint,” stated Gorin.
“Also, in lifting the right arm as I have described, Constable Thomas was using the wrist lock he had referred to earlier in his testimony. The wrist lock I observed would have undoubtedly caused Mr Jerome further pain.”
‘No real force’
Thomas testified that he decided to use this technique because: “I’ve done it before and in my experience it’s usually effective to… where they’re not able to move. They stay there. If you try to move … you’re just going to bend the wrists a little bit with a little pain applied, and they usually stop and stay there.”
Thomas disputed what could be seen of Jerome punching him in the video recording.
“It’s not real clear on the video, to be honest. It’s not real clear on the video, which is [expletive]. He did roll over and that’s when he came up with his right hand,” the officer testified.
Gorin, in his decision, stated: “With respect, the video was quite clear. I saw no punch or blow, I saw nothing that looked like anything other than a very minor movement of Mr Jerome’s right arm.
“There appeared to be no real force behind the movement that I observed. If anything, this movement was more consistent with an attempt to keep Constable Thomas away from him than the alleged punch or swing.
“I then saw Constable Thomas punch Mr Jerome a number of times in the face and when Mr Jerome attempted to crawl away, continue to strike him from behind on the back of the head. On each occasion, the officer struck him with considerable force.”
Thomas testified his training kicked in during the struggle “to strike him to stop the threat, to stop him from continuously trying to fight with us.”
Thomas was concerned that if Jerome “was able to strike me there at that point, or even after I threw the first punch, if he was able to strike me and knock me out, I’m knocked out of the cell with my female partner who is much smaller than him.”
Jerome had pleaded not guilty to assaulting a peace officer, resisting arrest, and breach of probation.
His trial was heard over three days in Inuvik in February. Gorin found him not guilty of all charges.