Calgary

Indigenous lawyer injured during central Alberta arrest alleges RCMP used 'extreme force'

Red Deer defence lawyer says she and her friend were beaten by an RCMP officer this past weekend after they were pulled over in Innisfail for allegedly running a stop sign.

RCMP characterize driver and passenger, both women, as the aggressors

A side view of a woman with a black, swollen eye.
Indigenous Red Deer lawyer Laura Phypers, 37, suffered injuries during an altercation with RCMP on the weekend. She was charged with assaulting a peace officer but says police used excessive force. (Andrew Phypers)

A Red Deer lawyer says she and her friend were beaten by an RCMP officer this past weekend after they were pulled over in a central Alberta town.

Defence lawyer Laura Phypers, 37, suffered a concussion and broken nose after she was punched at least seven times in the face and chest by a constable, according to her brother, also a lawyer. 

However, RCMP say they stand by their initial news release, which characterizes the two women as the aggressors.

The women were pulled over Saturday in Innsifail, a town about 100 kilometres north of Calgary. At the time, Desiree Friesen, 24, was driving while Phypers was in the passenger seat. Both women are Indigenous.

'Two sides'

Friesen faces charges of assaulting a peace officer, resisting arrest, refusing to provide a breath sample and dangerous driving. 

Phypers is charged with assaulting a peace officer, obstructing a peace officer and uttering threats. 

On Monday, RCMP issued a press release detailing the women's alleged crimes.

But Phypers' brother, Andrew Phypers — who is a defence lawyer in Red Deer — responded on his sister's behalf, saying there is no dispute of a roadside confrontation but "there are two sides" to what went down.

Andrew Phypers said although his sister did not want to engage in the public forum and "trusts the facts will ultimately refute the allegation made against her," the RCMP release "compels a response."

'Closed fist punches'

On Saturday, RCMP say an officer pulled a truck over after it allegedly ran a stop sign near the Innisfail hospital.

The officer demanded a mandatory alcohol screening sample. 

According to the Phypers' statement, Friesen asked for a clean straw to be used on the screening device.

The officer "immediately escalated to the use of extreme force to rip Ms. Friesen from the vehicle," the Phypers allege.

Friesen, who was still wearing her seatbelt, "became entangled in her sweater and the seatbelt and causing her to choke."

Front view of a woman with a bruised eye, nearly swollen shut.
Red Deer lawyer Laura Phypers suffered injuries during an altercation with police on the weekend. (Andrew Phypers)

Once out on the roadside, Phypers "came to the aid of her friend," according to the statement. 

"Const. Binnendyk delivered no less than seven closed fist punches to the head and chest of Ms. Phypers," reads the release. 

Friesen, who was lying face-first on the ground, "had her head slammed multiple times into the gravel."

Women 'belligerent,' say RCMP

But RCMP say "the driver and passenger were both intoxicated, belligerent and verbally aggressive with the officer."

The officer was in the process of arresting the driver for refusing to provide a breath sample but she refused to get out of the vehicle, according to the Mounties. 

The police statement goes on to say the passenger grabbed the driver to prevent her from being arrested.

Once Friesen was removed from the truck, Phypers got out and "approached police in a fighting stance and threatened the member's life," according to the RCMP statement.

Friesen is accused of physically assaulting the officer as he tried to arrest both women. 

Police say the officer and the passenger were both injured.   

Both women are due in court later this month.

'Sensationalized allegations': union

RCMP Cpl. Troy Savinkoff said if there are allegations of excessive force, there's a process in place where people can file a report and it can be investigated.

Kevin Halwa, the prairie region director of the National Police Federation, the labour union that represents RCMP officers, issued a response to the Phypers' statement.

"A family member of one of the accused has chosen to vent sensationalized allegations of misconduct by the arresting member of the RCMP, to the media," wrote Halwa.

"There are numerous complaint processes available to members of the public in the event they feel that a police officer's actions were not appropriate or justified.

"The third-party complainant, who presents themselves as a member of the legal profession, would know this but chose to publicly shame the officer who has no opportunity to explain the situation without compromising ongoing criminal matters before the courts."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary crime reporter

Meghan Grant is a justice affairs reporter. She has been covering courts, crime and stories of police accountability in southern Alberta for more than a decade. Send Meghan a story tip at meghan.grant@cbc.ca or follow her on Twitter.

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