'I acted in self-defence,' says man convicted of fatal assault in Alberta bar
Chris Harrison wants people ‘to know the truth’ about confrontation with bank manager
An Alberta man awaiting sentencing for manslaughter says he punched a bank manager in the head five times in a desperate effort to stop the man from sexually assaulting him.
The events unfolded in an Edson strip bar on the evening of Nov. 11, 2015.
Preston Goulet, a 42-year-old ATB branch manager, was rushed to hospital but died a few days later after he was pulled off life support. The medical examiner determined he died of blunt-force head injuries.
At the time, rumours swirled that Goulet, who was well-known in Edson's LGBTQ community, was the victim of a hate crime.
"I want people to know the truth," Chris Harrison said in an on-camera interview. "I felt — I still feel — that I acted in self-defence. I believe I had a right to defend myself."
Harrison, a heavy equipment operator, was initially charged with aggravated assault. The charge was upgraded to second-degree murder after Goulet's death on Nov. 14.
In late May of this year, a jury found Harrison, 40, guilty of manslaughter. He will be sentenced in November.
The jury reached its verdict after hearing testimony about what happened in the bar that night. Harrison testified in his own defence. Until now, his story has never been heard outside the courtroom. Harrison approached CBC News to provide his account.
He claims he was sexually assaulted by Goulet in the bar that night and only lashed out because Goulet refused to leave him alone and became more violent and aggressive.
Harrison adamantly denies it was a case of gay-bashing.
"It wasn't at all," he said. "As a matter of fact, it was the gay man attacking the straight man and the straight man saying, 'No.'"
'I'm aware of what a sexual assault is'
The evening began with Harrison driving two blocks from his home in Edson to the Gentlemen's Club at the Moose Creek Hotel. He was planning to watch the strippers and grab some wings and a beer, he said.
Harrison said his first impression of Goulet was that he was "another drunk guy at the bar."
Their first encounter was around 7:20 p.m., when both were outside the bar smoking.
Harrison said Goulet offered to set him up with his niece, who was there with him that night.
"I said I wasn't interested and he slapped me in the chest," Harrison said.
Silent surveillance video played during the trial shows a brief encounter between the two men outside the bar: Goulet tapping Harrison in the chest, then Goulet staggering as he follows Harrison back inside.
Harrison was sitting at a table when Goulet approached him again.
Goulet told Harrison he wanted to have sex with him, Harrison said.
"I said, 'I like women,'" Harrison said. "I said, 'Go away.'
"I know he's drunk now," he said. "I know he's intoxicated."
Surveillance video shows Goulet repeatedly going up to the bar that night and being served more drinks.
An autopsy later revealed that Goulet's blood-alcohol level was well over twice the legal limit when he was admitted to hospital.
Harrison said Goulet became more aggressive.
"He stayed right there at my table. He put his hand on my shoulder ... grabbed my arms and pushed down and he leaned into my ear. I don't know if he either kissed or licked my ear but it was wet."
He said he would tear me apart. That he'd kill me.- Chris Harrison
Harrison said he pushed Goulet away, but the other man refused to leave.
"I'm aware of what a sexual assault is," Harrison said. "He's already gone past the point where I've said, 'No' and 'Leave me alone.'"
Complained to bar staff
Harrison said Goulet got more aggressive and more violent.
"He starts kicking my leg and rubbing the inside of my leg, kicking my leg apart," Harrison said. "He's rubbing the inside of my leg, stroking it with his foot. Then stomping on my toe and my foot."
Harrison said the assault took place in full view of bar staff. Two servers and a bartender, all women, were working that night. There were no bouncers.
Harrison complained about Goulet to his server, asking her to remove Goulet from the club. He said his request was ignored, so he chose to take matters into his own hands.
"When I told them I was going to throw him out myself, he started getting a little bit more violent," Harrison said.
"He started kicking me harder. He started stomping on my feet and started digging his nails into my arm and he grabbed my neck a few more times.
"He said he would tear me apart. That he'd kill me."
Harrison complained to another staff member, who confronted Goulet.
"The bartender grabbed him, spun him around and told him, 'Stop touching him, stop threatening him, leave him alone and keep your hands to yourself.' And he was laughing at her."
Less than two minutes later, Harrison said, Goulet angrily approached him again.
"He was frothing. He had spit flying out of his mouth when he was telling me there's nothing that I can do. I felt threatened.
"I've already made complaints to the staff. They're not taking it seriously. I'm being assaulted in front of them ... They never removed him. My safety wasn't being looked after at the time."
Harrison thought about leaving but said he was worried Goulet could have a weapon and might follow him into a dark alley or parking lot.
"I thought, 'If I go and remove myself take myself out of the public and away from everybody, am I going to get shot or stabbed or jumped?'"
He decided the safest place for him was sitting right in front of staff in the bar.
'A physical response was warranted'
Harrison said he had enough when Goulet rubbed his crotch. He pushed his chair out, stood up and said, "That's f--king it," while he said the other man sat back and laughed at him. It was around 8:18 p.m.
He punched Goulet in the cheek and the eye five times, he said.
"They weren't as hard as I could punch," Harrison said. "They were fairly hard, but it didn't knock him out. I hit him once and he just looked at me and he wasn't smiling anymore."
[I] never thought it would end up with a man losing his life. I'm sorry to the family and anybody else who's missing him. I'm sorry to everybody who's hurt or affected.- Chris Harrison
Bar staff ordered Harrison to leave. Goulet was still conscious, Harrison said.
Later at home, when he undressed, he found bruises on both legs and one foot. His arms had been gouged by fingernails, breaking the skin.
"The abuse he put me through that night was enough for me to feel a physical response was warranted," Harrison said.
"I don't expect anybody to be sympathetic, but the fact is that's what led to me striking Preston was his sexual abuse of me."
Harrison said he is a survivor of sexual abuse and the incident with Goulet that night was a trigger.
"My emotions got the better of me," Harrison said tearfully.
"[I] never thought it would end up with a man losing his life. I'm sorry to the family and anybody else who's missing him. I'm sorry to everybody who's hurt or affected."
'A tragic loss'
Goulet was married to Edson restaurant owner Chris Byer, whose Facebook page is filled with loving tributes to his partner and photographs documenting their nine years together.
On the advice of his lawyer, Byer declined comment about the case.
Byer has launched a $1.8-million civil lawsuit against Harrison, the owner of the Moose Creek Hotel, and bar staff.
The suit claims the owners are liable because they didn't properly train staff and failed to provide "adequate or any properly trained security staff." The suit also alleges staff over-served alcohol to Harrison.
All of Byer's allegations are denied in a statement of defence filed by the hotel's owners.
They suggest Goulet's own negligence led to his death because he was "consuming alcohol or drugs past the point of intoxication," was "inciting or provoking Harrison through words or conduct," and "perpetrating an assault or sexual assault of Harrison."
Byer's lawyer, Jeff Champion, told CBC News: "It was a tragic loss for Chris to lose his husband in that type of a violent circumstance. Because there's still litigation ongoing, it's our hope that the civil lawsuit will help to answer more of the questions of how someone who went in to get a drink ended up dead a few hours later."
Harrison has launched a $400,000 lawsuit of his own against the bar owners and staff.
He will be sentenced in Hinton on Nov. 5.