Man who says he was assaulted by RCMP acquitted of public mischief
A man who believes he was assaulted by police in Yellowknife in 2020 is not guilty of public mischief, an NWT Territorial Court judge has ruled.
An apparent boot mark on Benjamin Manuel’s face was the result of being stomped in a “savage and vicious” attack by young men, not RCMP officers, the court heard this week.
In a case that made headlines, Manuel – a 44-year-old Dene man from Fort Good Hope who lives in Yellowknife – had photos of his bruised and swollen face posted to social media by his employer.
He alleged he was attacked by police in a laneway off Franklin Avenue the day after a Black Lives Matter protest had been held in the city.
While that account did not match witness reports of what happened that June evening (RCMP ultimately cleared their own officers but arrested and charged two other people), a judge on Friday decided Manuel was not guilty of public mischief.
Manuel had been accused of making a false statement to police with the alleged intent that RCMP would then investigate one of their own officers.
Deputy Judge Bruce Henning said Manuel’s troubled background, combined with his level of intoxication on the night of the assault – and possible resulting brain injuries – made it plausible that Manuel believed what he told RCMP was true, raising a “minimal level” of reasonable doubt that he acted maliciously.
“He reached a conclusion that police did this and it was consistent with the anger, prejudices and experiences he had in the past,” said the retired judge from Saskatchewan, working part-time in the NWT.
“He has resentments toward RCMP generally and, in particular, toward this [one] constable who was named.”
Manuel testified during the trial that he has been harassed by police throughout his life, particularly by the officer he named to RCMP after being assaulted.
“I don’t get along with RCMP,” he said.
While Manuel said he had difficulty remembering what happened on the night he was assaulted, as he was “highly intoxicated,” he insisted police had been involved.
“I know that they did it,” he told the court.
The court heard that at around 7:45pm on June 10, 2020, Manuel was attacked by at least two people outside Yellowknife City Hall, where bystanders intervened.
Police said the RCMP officer alleged by Manuel to have been involved was not on duty that night.
Manuel refused help at the scene and left before police arrived. He was on court release at the time with orders not to drink alcohol or be outside after work hours.
Severely injured, he made his way to the laneway behind Kim’s Confectionery at Franklin Avenue and 54 Street. He was found injured on the ground by his girlfriend.
Manuel was taken to hospital by ambulance. After waiting several hours without being seen, he said, he and his girlfriend left and returned to the tent where they were living.
‘A fragment of the story’
During his ruling on Friday, Henning noted that while he had dismissed the charge against Manuel, he did not say he believed Manuel had a “completely innocent mind” in the case.
“I hope that given your current age and your experiences – however bad they have been – you’re able to deal with alcohol or other addiction issues and avoid placing yourself in circumstances where such things can happen,” Henning said.
Manuel told the court he has a lengthy criminal record but claims he never committed many of the crimes to which he has pleaded guilty.
He said he grew up in abusive foster homes and started drinking alcohol in his pre-teens.
“I use alcohol just to cure the pain,” he said.
While Manuel initially declined to give a statement about his assault to RCMP at the Yellowknife detachment on June 11, 2020, the court heard an audio recording of a partial statement Manuel gave to officers in their vehicle outside McDonald’s restaurant on June 12.
He said he remembered being pulled out of an RCMP vehicle with three officers present, including one he recognized. He then expressed concern that police would “get away with it” and left the vehicle before completing his statement, against the advice of the officers.
Crown prosecutor Angie Paquin had argued that Manuel “knew what he was doing” – and what the consequences would be – when he claimed he had been assaulted by police.
She told the court it was a “tense” time for relations between visible minorities in the city, as a march in support of the Black Lives Matter movement had just taken place.
“He was encouraged by people to do something to ensure that it would not happen any more. He knew what the impact and backlash on the RCMP would be,” Paquin said, noting the Facebook post received many supportive comments.
Defence lawyer Peter Harte said there is no way to know what was going on in Manuel’s mind at the time and how he came to believe he had been assaulted by police.
“He was doing his very best to provide a very straightforward account,” Harte said. “It’s something he thought was true. It’s clear he had a fragment of a story.”
Judge Henning noted it was the Facebook post which led RCMP to open an investigation, rather than Manuel approaching officers with a complaint.
Emily Blake contributed reporting.