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Winnipeg woman gets $3K in $25K lawsuit against police, but judge slams 'belligerent' behaviour

A Manitoba judge awarded a Winnipeg woman $3,000 after police unlawfully entered her home more than five years ago.

Police will review training after November ruling on 2012 incident involving unlawful entry

A Manitoba judge awarded a woman $3,000 this month after police unlawfully entered her apartment in 2012. (CBC)

A Manitoba judge has awarded a Winnipeg woman $3,000 after police unlawfully entered her home and confined her in a cruiser more than five years ago.

But Kristy Ironstand said she is disappointed with the wording in the judge's ruling, which called her "irate" and said her behaviour made matters worse. 

"[It made] me look horrible when I didn't do anything wrong. They don't understand how my kids felt so helpless," she said holding back tears.

In the ruling, filed on Nov. 6, Justice Chris Martin wrote that "no one should expect significant compensation when escalating a situation, such as happened here, and effectively forcing the officers to react and defend in the way they did."

Martin stopped well short of awarding the full $25,000 Ironstand sought.

Around 4:15 a.m. on June 21, 2012, Winnipeg police got a 911 call about a potential break-in and assault at Ironstand's apartment unit, according to the ruling.

The caller, who wasn't in the unit, told police she could hear banging and the sounds of someone being punched from outside, and said Ironstand was away from home on a trip, the ruling says.

Ironstand had been in Saskatchewan with her family. She had returned to her home with her boyfriend and children  about an hour before the call, and was trying to get a few things unpacked before going to bed, she said. 

'Abusive' complainant detained in cruiser

Roughly five minutes later, two police officers arrived at the building and found the 911 caller just outside. The caller and her companion were both intoxicated, and the caller was "uncooperative" when an officer spoke to her in passing, the ruling states.

Police went and knocked on Ironstand's door, the document says. According to the police account, which Martin accepted, Ironstand "immediately started yelling and was belligerent," and officers pushed past her to enter the unit.

The judge noted Ironstand had a different version of events, in which she accused police of calling her a "dumb c---," but he didn't find it valid.

Ironstand said that it was disheartening and she didn't feel like she was being heard.

In her telling of the encounter, Ironstand said she wasn't abusive to the officers, just confused, scared and getting agitated.

"It just feels like there was no empathy or sympathy for me, nobody was sincere … They didn't care what happened to me," Ironstand said.

"They weren't sorry for what their officers did. Nobody was held accountable."

According to the ruling, officers explained to Ironstand the nature of the 911 call and that they needed to check on the well-being of people inside, but didn't explain that they had the right to enter, and didn't stop to find out who Ironstand was. Instead, they learned she was the resident of the home a few seconds after stepping inside.

In the ruling, Martin wrote that Ironstand continued to be verbally abusive and attempted to physically obstruct the officers once they came inside, and found police detained her in the cruiser outside so they could figure out what happened.

Entry not 'reasonable and necessary': judge​

Martin concluded the police officers "simply wanted to ensure that everyone was safe.

"To do that, they wanted to speak to the adult male who was there. But, everything Ms. Ironstand did, physically and verbally, prevented that from happening in a sensible and reasonably calm way," Martin wrote.

The judge concluded the officers acted "reasonably or proportionally" in forcibly detaining Ironstand in the police cruiser during the incident. Ironstand was "slightly injured" in the process, the ruling states, but the judge found the injuries "wholly unintentional and coincidental to their proportionate response to her behaviour."

However, the judge still awarded Ironstand $500 in damages for false imprisonment and battery, and an additional $2,500 in general damages for the unlawful entry into her home and the breach of her privacy.

"I have no doubt that the officers honestly believed that they had to enter Ms. Ironstand's suite, despite her protests, to ensure the safety of everyone inside," the judge wrote.

"However, whether this was because of departmental policy or not, and mindful of not falling into the Monday-morning-quarterback trap, I cannot find that entering her suite was objectively reasonable and necessary in the circumstances."

Police will review training

The matter was litigated over five years, and the issue of costs is still being decided. Ian Histed, Ironstand's lawyer, said he couldn't comment on the case until that was done.

Even after the long court process is wrapped, Ironstand said the experience will stick with her family and she's not sure how they will move forward. 

"I don't know [if I can move on]. I can't move forward knowing that they don't care," she said, adding she was hoping for an apology.

"You are just continually making me suffer." 

A spokesperson for the Winnipeg police told CBC News in an email the service has reviewed the decision.

"Justice Martin found that the 'police acted proportionally and in good faith, and that their entry into the home was minimally intrusive in that they did not force entry, did not cause any damage, and were in the residence for only as long as it took to sort the situation out,'" the spokesperson wrote.

He said the service will be reviewing training "to ensure that our front-line officers have a clear understanding of their authority in these type of situations."