Edmonton police face probe over 'grave assault'

Two Edmonton police officers are under investigation after a judge criticized their arrest of a man as a "grave assault" and called their testimony at trial "unbelievable," the result of a "circle of silence."

Conduct of officers during traffic stop under investigation

Tony Maskell points to where doctors had to insert metal plates to repair facial bones broken during a traffic stop in Edmonton in March 2010. (CBC)

Two Edmonton police officers are under investigation after a judge criticized their arrest of a man as a "grave assault" and called their testimony at trial "unbelievable," the result of a "circle of silence."

Provincial court Judge Donna Groves suspended charges against Tony Maskell on June 15 after concluding police brutality and "incredulous" police testimony breached his rights. 

"It made me feel good that somebody could notice, that [the judge] could notice, that it was a circle of silence," said Maskell.

Maskell's T-shirt was covered in blood after his arrest. ((Submitted by Tony Maskell))

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, the police watchdog in the province, is investigating the conduct of the two officers, who remain on active duty.

Maskell was pulled over during a routine traffic stop on 109th Street at 104th Avenue early March 11, 2010.

After Const. Darin Goldenberg approached Maskell’s car, the exchange quickly became heated.

Maskell yanked from car

Maskell said the officer yanked him from his car, smashing his face on the ground and  breaking his nose and the orbital bone under his right eye.

"It was very violent," said Maskell "I was grabbed by the neck here and pulled out of the car in one motion."

"I have a permanent plate in my face and I have pins up here in my forehead holding it together."

Maskell's face shows injuries after the arrest. ((Submitted by Tony Maskell))

Maskell’s head was also slammed against the side of his car leaving it streaked with blood, he said. 

But Maskell was not taken to hospital.

Instead, he was taken in handcuffs to the police station, where he was charged with impaired driving, refusing to give a breath sample and driving while disqualified.

During the trial in March 2011, police officers could not account for the amount of blood on Maskell's T-shirt and car.

When asked in court if Maskell’s face had hit the car, Goldenberg answered, "Not that I recall." 

Const. Nadine Comeau testified, "I don't recall anything like that."

The court asked the officers to explain pictures showing the front and back of Maskell's white T-shirt covered in blood.

When asked whether he remembered seeing the blood, Goldenberg again responded "Not that I recall." 

Comeau echoed, "I don't remember that."

Judge dismissed police testimony

In her decision, Groves dismissed most of what police had to say at trial.

"I found some of the testimony of the police officers unbelievable," she said.

"Where there are inconsistencies between Maskell’s testimony and the officers’ testimony, I accept the testimony of Maskell."

Groves said she believed the officers' inability to recall events was the result of a "circle of silence."

"I found the officers’ circle of silence was tantamount to misleading testimony," she said.

Groves dismissed the charges of impaired driving and refusing to give a breath sample due to lack of evidence.  

She then stayed proceedings on the charge of driving while disqualified on the grounds police breached Maskell’s rights by using excessive force.

"The force used was disproportionate, unnecessary and unreasonable," she said.

Groves went even further, calling the constables' actions "an unwarranted, grave assault" concluding that "such conduct will not be tolerated."

Judicial criticism of police is rare, say legal experts.

"Very unusual for a judge to find, very definitively, that police were not telling the truth, or the whole truth on the stand," said Steve Penney, a criminal law professor at the University of Alberta.