Halifax cop charged with assaulting homeless man at shelter

A video camera captured an incident that led Nova Scotia's police watchdog to charge a Halifax Regional Police officer with assaulting a man and breaking his nose at the Metro Turning Point shelter in February.

Const. Laurence Gary Basso charged with assault causing bodily harm, public mischief, breach of trust

Const. Gary Basso is accused of attacking a man at Halifax's Metro Turning Point shelter. (CBC)

A video camera captured an incident that led Nova Scotia's police watchdog to charge a Halifax Regional Police officer with assaulting a man and breaking his nose at the Metro Turning Point shelter in February.

Const. Laurence Gary Basso, 37, is charged with assault causing bodily harm, public mischief and breach of trust. 

On March 4, Halifax Regional Police contacted Nova Scotia's Serious Incident Response Team about a complaint from a member of the public alleging an officer assaulted a 54-year-old man at the shelter on Feb. 25.

Felix Cacchione took over as SiRT director in March after a 32-year career as a judge. He said he'd be concerned if this had allegedly happened to any citizen, but a homeless person living in a shelter has "enough on their plate." He said the assault appeared to be unprovoked. 

SiRT director Felix Cacchione worked as a judge for 32 years before starting at the Nova Scotia police watchdog last month. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

"He suffered a fractured nose as a result of being struck, and obviously it bled," Cacchione said Friday. "What occurred was captured on videotape and whether or not provocation existed would be for the court trying it to determine. We don't believe there was."

Cacchione said the alleged victim had been asked to leave the shelter as he'd been seen drinking alcohol inside. He sat on a milk crate outside in the snow and police were called to get him to leave the property. 

"Certainly anyone who is homeless is more vulnerable," the SiRT director said. "When someone has nowhere else to go, that makes them more vulnerable."

Basso accused of lying in police reports

The mischief and breach-of-trust charges allege that between Feb. 25 and March 3, Basso wrote police reports and notes including information he knew was false to mislead a police officer investigating the incident at the shelter. The charge says he wanted "to divert suspicion from himself of having committed the offence of assault causing bodily harm."

Police were called to the Metro Turning Point shelter to get a man to leave the property. The responding officer, Const. Laurence Gary Basso, is charged with assault. (CBC)

It's not the first time the police officer has been in trouble with the law.

Basso was charged with theft in May 2015. He was accused of stealing a substance known as cut, which is used to dilute drugs, from an evidence locker at police headquarters on Gottingen Street. 

But the Crown withdrew the charges in February 2017 due to delays in the prosecution. The Crown had been under intense deadline pressure since the Supreme Court of Canada imposed limits on how long cases can take to make it through the courts.

Cacchione said the previous case has no bearing on this incident. 

Suspended with pay

Basso's arraignment related to the charges stemming from the Metro Turning Point incident is scheduled for May 22. Unlike the previous theft prosecution, Cacchione said he does not expect the charges will be withdrawn. 

Halifax Regional Police confirmed Basso has been suspended with pay. Const. Carol McIsaac said in an email that under the provincial Police Act, suspended officers must receive pay and allowances for at least 60 days. Following that, the police chief can decide to stop the officer's pay if they remain suspended.

McIsaac said because the matter is before the courts, police would not be commenting further.

SIRT is responsible for investigating all serious incidents involving police in Nova Scotia. It is independent of police forces and the Nova Scotia Department of Justice.

With files from Elizabeth Chiu