Officer describes alleged assault of woman while in custody
Warning: The following report contains language that may be distressing for some readers.
A court has heard recordings of 9-1-1 calls and testimony from an RCMP officer on duty when two other officers allegedly assaulted a woman at the Yellowknife detachment.
Cst Francessca Bechard and Cpl Jason Archer each face one count of assault regarding the incident, in which a woman from Whatì was arrested and spent the night in police custody.
Having both pleaded not guilty to the charge, the officers’ trial began Monday afternoon at the Quality Inn in Yellowknife.
Crown prosecutor Greg Lyndon, who ordinarily practices in Nunavut, played a series of four 9-1-1 calls made shortly before the woman was arrested on October 14, 2020.
In the first call, made just before 5pm that day, a man told the police dispatcher the woman was refusing to leave the lobby of Stanton Suites Hotel, was intoxicated, and swearing at guests. Asked if the woman had hit anyone, the man responded: “Not yet, but she’s looking like she could.” He then said she was “starting to throw shit.”
In the second call, made at 5:12pm, a female caller said the woman was at the Liquor Shop, describing her as intoxicated, a “troublemaker” and a “drama queen.” She called 9-1-1 again at 5:15pm and 5:24pm, expressing urgency for police to arrive, saying that the woman was “throwing people around” and “going after people,” while yelling could be heard in the background.
Cst Robert Gossmann, who worked at the RCMP detachment in Yellowknife from 2017 to 2021 and now resides in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, testified on Monday that he was on shift between 6am and 6pm on the day the woman was arrested.
When police received a call about the woman causing a disturbance at the liquor store, Gossmann testified, he and his partner drove to the location on Old Airport Road.
Gossmann said he and his partner arrested the woman and she cooperated, although she was “flexing and pulling her arms a little bit” when they put her in handcuffs. (The woman is facing one charge of mischief and two charges of assault for the incident, in which she allegedly assaulted Liquor Shop staff.)
When he was inside the store speaking to a witness, Gossmann said he saw the police vehicle rocking back and forth while the back door was flexing. He said he believed the woman was kicking the door, something he described as common, noting the door was already damaged from a previous occurrence.
On the drive back to the RCMP detachment, the officer said he tried to read the woman her Charter rights and police cautions, but she was yelling and swearing and did not acknowledge his questions.
When they arrived at the detachment, Gossmann said they had to wait for Bechard and Archer to release another inmate before the woman could be brought in. Once that person left, he said Bechard and his partner removed the woman from the police vehicle and walked her into the detachment, where she was searched by Bechard with help from Archer.
The officers removed the woman’s handcuffs and held her hands up against the wall while she continued to yell and scream, Gossmann described. When the woman turned her head toward Bechard and began pulling her arm on that side down, he said Bechard pushed the woman back against the wall and punched her once in the face or head.
Gossmann said that was a “little surprising,” as he believed the officers had the woman under control and he did not witness anything that would have led to the punch.
“It’s never good when you bring a prisoner in and things get a little out of hand,” he said.
“I felt a little disappointed in the situation.”
Gossmann said the woman was put in a “drunk cell,” which just has four walls and a floor to prevent people from hurting themselves. While she lay face-down on the floor with her arms out, Gossmann said, his partner held the woman’s legs down while Bechard and Archer removed her sweater. He explained it is police policy to remove all but one layer of an inmate’s clothing, along with any jewellery.
Gossmann said the woman was then left alone in the locked cell.
When he returned to the detachment the next morning, Gossmann said the woman had been moved to a regular cell, where he read her Charter rights and advised her that he planned to release her on an undertaking. He said he did not observe that the woman had any injuries.
Gossmann said the woman asked if she could charge the officer and, when he asked which one, she said, “That blonde bitch,” referring to Bechard. He told the woman she could file a police complaint and later gave her Bechard’s name when asked.
Later that day, Gossmann said he spoke with Archer and explained that the woman was complaining about being punched. He said Archer responded that he planned to speak with Bechard and, if she could not provide justification for the incident, he’d “have to play the bad guy.”
The CBC first reported in January 2021 that Alberta RCMP were investigating police in Yellowknife for allegedly mistreating a woman in custody.
NWT RCMP announced in August that Bechard and Archer were being charged after Crown prosecutors reviewed that investigation. They said a senior officer at the Yellowknife detachment had reported the incident.
The trial is set to resume on Tuesday morning.