First Nation 'devastated' by court ruling
"Justice failed us," chief says after OPP officer found not guilty of assault on First Nations man
Chief Sonny Gagnon of Aroland First Nation said people from his community feel betrayed after a court ruling in Thunder Bay on Friday.
Justice F.A. Sargent found an OPP officer not guilty of assault on a man from Aroland First Nation.
Constable Brian Bellefeuille was charged after an altercartion with Gary Megan in a Geraldton OPP jail cell.
A video tape of Bellefeuille pinning a handcuffed Megan to the wall, then putting him to the ground, was repeatedly shown during the trial.
"The video it showed...when he [Megan] got to the cell, I didn't see no resistance," Gagnon said outside the court house on Friday. "So what was the police fearing? There's three of them and one very, very intoxicated person that wouldn't harm anything.
"Why the take down in the cell when they could have just put him in the cell, locked the door and let him sober up."
Judge said takedown meant to subdue, not injure
Megan had been arrested for public intoxication outside Geraldton's only bar. During the trial the Crown had argued the arrest was unlawful, but the judge said that argument was "weak in the extreme."
"It was totally prudent to take him into custody," Justice Sargent said, reading his written decision to a court room packed with Aroland residents. "The court can appreciate the criticism police would have faced... if he had frozen to death."
Justice Sargent said there was reasonable doubt that the fall to the floor had caused the broken bones in Megan's cheek and around his eye since X-rays weren't taken until several days after the incident. The judge said that left only the laceration above Megan's eye as the bodily harm caused by Bellefeuille's actions.
"The take-down or grounding was not designed to injure but subdue," Justice Sargent said, adding in his view of the video he could see Bellefeuille's arm underneath Megan as he was going down "in an effort to cushion the fall."
Crown considering an appeal
It's a view people outside the courtroom didn't share.
"For someone to do that to a person that is so drunk and claim that they took him out of care....where was the protection?" Grace Bottle asked. "That's why it's so frustrating to me. I just don't understand that decision.
Gagnon said people from Aroland are "devastated" by the ruling.
"Right now we don't feel there is no justice," he said. "I know the law failed us."
Gagnon said the Crown is considering an appeal.
But Aroland's Patricia Magiskan said this case adds to the general mistrust First Nations people have of the police.
"This is another example of something that we have to turn around and fix, fix up those relations [between police and First Nations]," Magiskan said. "How can that be done when we have a police officer found not guilty of what I know is assault."
Bellefeuille satisfied with ruling
For his part, Bellefeuille's lawyer said his client is satisfied with the decision, after a long trial.
"It creates a great deal of stress and emotional toll," Andrew McKay said. "He [Bellefeuille] is a strong individual, he's done very, very well."
Bellefeuille still faces police services act charges relating to the incident.
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