Closing arguments took place today in the assault trial of a Saskatoon police officer who is facing charges stemming from the arrest of a 14-year-old boy in 2012.
Const. Luke St. Onge, 28, is charged with assault causing bodily harm and assault with a weapon after the teen was allegedly hit in the face and pepper-sprayed.
Defence lawyer Aaron Fox said the real issue is whether or not the force Luke St. Onge used in that night's arrest was excessive. He told court St. Onge had "every reason" to believe the suspect would be armed with a weapon. If there were no grounds to believe the kid had bear spray or some other weapon, Fox said the case would be "dramatically different."
"The concern was that knowing [the boy] was a suspect who'd bear-maced an officer, that he'd have a weapon."
St. Onge and two other officers testified they thought the boy was wiggling around, trying to resist arrest.
In court, St. Onge testified that he punched the teen as hard as he could, three to five times. The teen was certain there were at least ten blows, but not more than 15.
Fox noted that St. Onge didn't cause any lacerations or any broken bones, adding that the victim's facial injuries were gone in a few weeks.
"Constable St. Onge did what he was trained to do," said Fox, noting that St. Onge's testimony was largely corroborated on the stand by other police officers.
Teen was 'completely restrained'
Crown prosecutor Bill Burge noted a "significant discrepancy" in the clothing description St. Onge had earlier radioed in. The description was of a 15-year-old aboriginal male, wearing a white checkered-front jacket and dark pants.
The boy police arrested was wearing a white hoodie with no pattern, and dark pants. He was 14, stood 5'6" and weighed roughly 135 pounds.
'It's unfortunate St. Onge was even in this situation. He should have stayed out or been told to stay out.' - Crown prosecutor Bill Burge
"There were at least five peace officers who had their hands on [the victim]. There were other peace officers right there who didn't use force on him," Burge said.
He noted St. Onge had two distinct opportunities to observe the boy police arrested during the foot chase to catch him.
St. Onge told court he did not see the boy carrying any weapon. The boy was found to be unarmed.
One officer had already tackled and pinned down, when other police arrived. By the time St. Onge sprinted to the scene, the Crown noted four other officers had the boy "completely restrained."
Burge said St. Onge waited only two to five seconds before he started to strike the victim as hard as he could in the head. He then pulled out police pepper spray and sprayed it on the boy.
"He delivered significant blows to a person who was completely restrained at the time," said Burge. "It's unfortunate St. Onge was even in this situation. He should have stayed out or been told to stay out."
Inconsistencies in officers reports
The judge noted inconsistencies in what police officers said on the stand and in written reports filed months earlier.
After the boy's arrest, he was charged with resisting arrest and assault with a weapon. Both charges were dropped due to a lack of evidence. There were no public complaints about St. Onge's conduct, but following an internal review of his use of force, the Saskatoon Police Service notified the Saskatchewan Public Complaints Commission.
That led to St. Onge being charged with assault causing bodily harm and assault with a weapon.
He was immediately suspended and has spent almost two years on paid leave, waiting for the outcome of these criminal proceedings.
Saskatoon police say they'll have to wait for a verdict, sentencing and a possible appeal period before managers decide internally whether St. Onge will be reinstated.