Yellowknife

Charge stayed as YK 18-year-old claims RCMP used excessive force


A Yellowknife teenager no longer faces prosecution over an attempted escape from RCMP after she said officers set a police dog on her “without warning or provocation,” then stood by as it mauled her arm.

On top of that, a Charter of Rights challenge alleged 18-year-old Maiya Klengenberg was only at the hospital after three days in the Yellowknife detachment “drunk tank” over the Victoria Day long weekend, during which she felt cold and had access to only one shower.

She ultimately stabbed herself with a plastic fork, the court heard, necessitating the hospital trip.

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The case is the latest to raise questions about the length of time some people in the NWT spend in RCMP holding cells.

“Upon leaving the hospital, Ms Klengenberg made an impulsive decision to run from RCMP in an effort to avoid being put back in the drunk tank,” stated the Charter of Rights challenge, which was raised by her defence in Territorial Court on September 29. 

“While unlawfully at large, RCMP located Ms Klengenberg in the downtown core of Yellowknife using the assistance of a police dog,” the challenge continued.

“Without warning or provocation the police dog bit on her arm, causing significant injury that required stitches.

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“Ms Klengenberg remembers seeing fatty tissue coming out of her bite wound. She remembers hearing police officers standing by idly and casually talking to each other while the dog continued to bite her.”

In a news release issued by RCMP after Klengenberg’s reported escape, police made no mention of any stab wound suffered during three days of detention inside an RCMP holding cell.

The news release stated she had been located in a yard “in the vicinity of 52 Street” with “a non-life threatening injury sustained while being engaged by Police Dog Services.”

Klengenberg’s lawyer, Tu Pham, noted the Charter guarantees an accused’s right to “life, liberty and security” and not to be “subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.”

Moreover, said Pham, the Criminal Code “limits the authority of a peace officer to use force in an arresting an accused.”

Klengenberg had pleaded guilty to a charge of being unlawfully at large. A Gardiner hearing was subsequently scheduled, at which a Charter challenge can be made during sentencing.

The rarely used Gardiner hearing is a session at which witnesses – including the accused – can be called after the accused has entered a guilty plea, usually to resolve a dispute regarding the facts of the case.

Had the hearing gone ahead, the public may have learned how closely Klengenberg was monitored by RCMP while leaving the hospital – and how she could have escaped. 

Instead of proceeding with that hearing, the Crown opted to stay her charge of being unlawfully at large.

Judge Garth Malakoe signed off on that stay along with two other counts of violating court orders.

Police ‘strive for compassion and respect’

The NWT’s director of public prosecutions, Alex Godfrey, told Cabin Radio by email: “In the process of evaluating the test as to whether the Crown has a reasonable prospect of conviction – and whether there is public interest to proceed with these matters – additional disclosure was received.

“Based on the review of the additional disclosure, that test is not met and the Crown is directing a stay of proceedings.”

Godfrey would not state if the decision was made in consultation with the RCMP, or if the officers involved were under investigation.

RCMP spokesperson Julie Plourde said police would not comment on the stayed charge.

“As for some of the assertions or allegations, we understand they were made in a court by the defence and not as an agreed statement of fact, nor argued before the court,” Plourde said by email.

The decision to keep an accused in police custody – such as for the three days the court heard Klengenberg had experienced – is not under RCMP’s control, Plourde wrote.

Concerns have been raised about the extent to which prisoners whose cases have yet to be heard can end up in RCMP holding cells for longer-than-intended periods.

Covid-19 travel restrictions and reduced flight availability can, for example, make travel difficult for people being sent to the NWT’s jail for women in Fort Smith. Spaces for women at the North Slave Correctional Complex in Yellowknife are limited.

A woman was kept in a Yellowknife RCMP holding cell for 11 days over the last Christmas holiday.

Asked about that incident in the legislature in February, justice minister Caroline Wawzonek said there are “no doubt ways to avoid that in the future.”

This week, Plourde said: “In general, when a prisoner is staying for a longer period of time in our cell block, Yellowknife RCMP members make genuine efforts to ensure [they] stay in our cells for as short a time as possible. We strive to treat everyone with compassion and respect while in our care.”

More charges for Klengenberg

Regarding the allegation of excessive force by the police dog and its handlers, Plourde said the dogs are highly trained and, “generally speaking, they are not used to apprehend a person who is following police direction.”

She said if a person is intentionally evading police, not complying with police orders, or not cooperating, “police dogs and police handlers may take additional steps to safely bring someone into our care.”

She noted that police “generally provide immediate care and medical attention” should someone be injured.

RCMP did not address whether they were aware of Klengenberg’s anticipated Gardiner hearing or planned Charter challenge, nor whether the officers involved in the police dog’s apprehension of Klengenberg were subject to any internal discipline.

On May 20, in a news release announcing the recapture of Klengenberg, police stated an internal review would take place. The details of that review are not known.

Klengenberg still faces a number of charges – including robbery and possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose – in relation to a March 17 incident in which she is alleged to have held up a staff member at the Circle K gas station and convenience store.

She was jointly charged with Devon Larabie, 27, with whom she lived in the city’s Lanky Court at the start of the year. 

On May 6, Larabie was out on bail for that robbery when he was arrested and charged with the murder of 22-year-old Breanna Menacho.

There is no suggestion Klengenberg has any connection to that case. Larabie remains in custody.

Klengenberg has a preliminary hearing regarding the robbery set for November 27. She is also charged with two breaches of court orders and one count under the Youth Criminal Justice Act of failing to keep the peace and be of good behaviour.

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