An OPP officer says the First Nations man he’s accused of assaulting would have faced certain death if he wasn’t arrested last Februrary.
Const. Brian Bellefeuille testified Friday in his own defence at his trial on charges of assaulting Gary Megan, from Aroland First Nation.
The charges relate to an altercation in a Geraldton OPP jail cell on February 11, 2012, where Megan was thrown to the ground by Bellefeuille. Megan suffered a cut to his eyebrow and was later diagnosed with broken bones around his eye socket.
The Crown has argued Megan should have never been arrested that night.
But Bellefeuille said he charged Megan with public intoxication for his own safety, after he found the 42-year-old outside Geraldton’s only bar at closing time.
‘I thought he was going to die’
"I want to make sure he gets home safe," Bellefeuille testified as he watched surveillance video of the two interacting outside the bar that night.
He said he believed Megan would attempt to walk home to Aroland First Nation, about 50 km away, in an intoxicated state, in freezing temperatures.
"I thought he was going to die," Bellefeuille said explaining why he arrested Megan for public intoxication. "He’s thinking he’s walking to Aroland -- it’s a death sentence."
Megan had testified earlier that he attempted to give police an address where he was staying in Geraldton, but Bellefeuille said he believed that was a ploy to get out of being arrested.
Bellefeuille said the fact that Megan had given a police officer ‘the finger’ earlier that day was "police information" shared among officers but it did not influence his decision to arrest Megan.
Officer feared for his own safety
At the police station, Bellefeuille said Megan, with hands cuffed behind his back, "violently thrusted his body" to release Bellefeuille’s grip on him.
"He seems angry," Bellefeuille said. "I’m not sure what he’s going to do."
Like other witnesses, Bellefeuille was shown the jail cell recording from that night.
"He’s yelling at me, angry, he’s starting to turn," Bellefeuille said as the video showed Megan turn to face him, before being pinned to the wall. "I could almost feel his breath on my face."
Megan still had his hands cuffed behind his back as he was pinned to the wall by Bellefeuille and another police officer in the cell. Bellefeuille said that’s when Megan started to turn again.
'My mother is First Nations, as well. I don’t want to have that reputation in the community.' —Const. Brian Bellefeuille
"I was concerned for my safety and that of Const. Wilson," Bellefeuille said. "We are taught how to ground someone, to take them to the ground to eliminate a threat."
Bellefeuille said he used his military training (he served in Afghanistan with the Canadian Forces) to identify that Megan was in "pre-attack" mode.
"He can hit me, he can kick me, he can bite me," Bellefeuille said of the threat Megan posed. "This is where I put him to the ground. I take Mr. Megan to the ground to stop an assault. I’m trying to control him."
Blood on the floor
The courtroom was crowded again on Thursday with several prominent First Nations leaders among about 50 people in attendance, including all three deputy grand chiefs from the Nishnawbe Aski Nation and the Assembly of First Nation’s Ontario Regional Chief.
One spectator gasped and whispered, "look at the blood" as the jail cell video showed a dark patch on the floor where Megan’s head hit.
Bellefeuille said he attempted to break Megan’s fall.
"I’m attempting to control the fall," Bellefeuille said. "All I want to do is maintain control and not be assaulted."
Once the video was over, Bellefeuille expressed contrition.
"I still feel terrible that it happened," Bellefeuille said. "[Geraldton] is a small town, you certainly don’t want to have a name for that. My mother is First Nations, as well. I don’t want to have that reputation in the community. I didn’t want to injure Mr. Megan. It’s certainly an unfortunate circumstance."
Bellefeuille will be cross examined when court resumes on Monday.