Videos depict alleged assault of woman by police
Video and audio recordings were the focus as the trial continued of two RCMP officers accused of assaulting a woman at the Yellowknife detachment in October 2020.
Cst Francessca Bechard and Cpl Jason Archer each face one charge of assault related to the arrest and detention of a woman from Whatì who spent the night in police custody on October 14, 2020.
Crown prosecutor Greg Lyndon on Tuesday played 20 video and audio recordings depicting the incident, from the woman’s arrest outside Yellowknife’s Liquor Shop to her release from custody the following morning.
Cst Robert Gossmann, on duty that day, earlier testified about arresting the woman at the liquor store on Old Airport Road with his partner and driving her to the RCMP detachment. (The woman faces one charge of mischief and two charges of assault for allegedly causing a disturbance at the store.)
Gossmann said the woman appeared to be “grossly intoxicated” and under the influence of an “upper” like crack cocaine. He described her as yelling and screaming “nonsensical things” during the drive to the detachment, preventing him from reading her Charter rights or police cautions.
Video and audio recordings taken inside the police vehicle capture a profanity-laced tirade in which the woman expresses anger that police touched her and arrested her.
Gossmann’s partner can be heard telling the woman he would drag her by her hair if she didn’t get in the back of the police vehicle when she was arrested. He also warned her she would be charged with mischief if she damaged the police vehicle – as she was kicking the door – and warned her not to threaten officers.
Under cross-examination by Bechard’s lawyer, Gossmann said he did not feel threatened by anything the woman had said.
Further videos, that did not include audio, showed the woman being led into the RCMP detachment and searched by Bechard and Archer. The videos appear to show Bechard striking the woman in the head at one point.
Gossmann testified on Monday that Bechard patted down the woman with help from Archer before the officers removed her handcuffs and held her hands against a wall.
Gossmann said the woman, who was still yelling and swearing, turned her head toward Bechard and began to drop her arm on that side when Bechard punched her in the head or face.
Later in the day, Bechard’s lawyer continued cross-examination of Gossmann, painstakingly going through CCTV videos of the exterior and interior of the Yellowknife detachment as the handcuffed woman arrived.
Gossmann agreed the woman was “very angry about being touched” and was “yelling, screaming, threatening” and swearing.
After the struggling woman’s pants fell down as she was being removed from the rear of the police SUV by another officer, Bechard assisted in pulling up her pants, to “provide her with some dignity” while walking into the detachment.
Gossmann has originally testified it was Bechard who had pulled the woman from the vehicle.
“But you just remembered something incorrectly, fair?” asked the lawyer.
“Fair,” was the response.
As the woman is escorted through a garage and into the booking area, video shows her turn toward the female officer.
“She’s turning, focusing on Cst Bechard. You’ve told us that an individual in this state and this frame of mind, that’s a very significant threat?” asked the lawyer.
“It is significant,” said Gossmann.
“You’ll agree with me that we see [the prisoner] sort-of spin towards Cst Bechard and she now has her on her own, and is pushing her towards the wall? She was left to deal with a very angry, volatile subject?”
“I don’t agree with your wording,” said Gossmann. “It looks like [Bechard] took control of the situation.”
The lawyer also suggested that being the investigator in the case, Gossmann should have instructed the officers to place the woman directly “into the drunk tank.”
“I didn’t think she was going to be an issue … somewhat resistant but not fighting,” said Gossmann.
After Bechard and another officer began patting the woman down and conducting the “unpleasant task” of searching intimate areas, she twisted away from the wall and toward the female officer, said the lawyer.
Officers are trained to be wary of prisoners who spit, something apparently common in Yellowknife, the court heard.
Bechard, as that twisting movement took place, punched the woman in the head.
“I think you suggested yesterday the strike was to the face. It appears to be that the strike is near the back of the head? With the benefit of watching the video, would you agree it seems to be to the back of the head?” the lawyer asked.
“It’s much quicker on the video. It’s hard to tell,” said Gossmann, who admitted he could not tell how hard the strike was.
The lawyer noted RCMP training allows a “distractionary strike” when dealing with a violent prisoner.
“One of the physical control techniques they can use is a distractionary strike. It’s not great,” the lawyer said, “but police officers have to react, sometimes in seconds, to a threat?”
The trial continues on Wednesday.