Former B.C. solicitor general says judicial review needed in Alberta police brutality case
Crown refused to prosecute assault charge against Edmonton officer laid by police watchdog
There should be a judicial review of Alberta Justice's refusal to prosecute an Edmonton police officer whose violent attack on a handcuffed prisoner was captured on video, a former British Columbia solicitor general says.
Kash Heed, who also served as West Vancouver's police chief during his 32-year policing career, said the attack by Edmonton Police Service Const. Dylan Awid on a truck thief in June 2019 was one of the worst incidents of excessive force by a police officer he has ever seen.
"The justice minister has to take some accountability for this," Heed said.
A retired judge, he said, should "review this entire incident from the outset right to the decision of Crown counsel. And they should be guided by what that [judge] may find."
CBC News obtained civilian and security camera video of police swarming truck thief Kyle Parkhurst, who rammed two police vehicles after being hemmed in behind a downtown Edmonton apartment building.
The videos show an officer — not Awid — smashing Parkhurst with what appears to be a handgun, knocking him to the ground where he is immediately swarmed by officers.
While he was on the ground, Parkhurst was Tasered and stomped by several officers before he was handcuffed.
Awid looks over both shoulders — apparently to see if anyone is watching — before he kicks the handcuffed prisoner three times while he lies face down on the ground.
Awid picks up Parkhurst and slams him head first into a brick wall, and then rapidly marches him toward a police cruiser where he delivers an elbow smash to the back of Parkhurst's head, which ricochets off the vehicle's mirror. He then pushes Parkhurst hard against the cruiser.
None of the other officers intervened to stop the attack on the prisoner.
Crown admitted excessive force but refused to prosecute
After CBC News reported allegations that Parkhurst had been denied medical treatment, Alberta's justice ministry ordered the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) to take over the excessive-force investigation.
After more than two years, ASIRT laid one charge of common assault against Awid on Oct. 8 this year.
But on Nov. 8, the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service (ACPS) stayed the charge.
"In this case, an ACPS prosecutor reviewed the investigation and surrounding circumstances and concluded that the charges did not meet our standard for prosecution," the ACPS said in a statement.
In December 2019, the Crown dropped numerous charges against Parkhurst after admitting police used excessive force.
A judge sentenced Parkhurst, a 26-year-old Métis man, to 3½ years in prison on 28 charges. The charges related to a methamphetamine-fuelled crime spree that involved fleeing from police in stolen vehicles. He is to be released April 28.
- Edmonton police officer charged with assault in violent arrest of truck thief
- Crown admits Edmonton police used 'unnecessary force' in arrest of truck thief
Alberta Justice has refused to explain its legal rationale for staying the assault charge against Awid after previously admitting police used excessive force.
Critics question Crown's prosecution standard for police
Both Heed and Abby Deshman of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association sharply criticized that decision.
"If these charges don't meet the standard for prosecution, without further explanation, it is hard to imagine what charges against police officers for assault/excessive force would meet a standard for prosecution," said Deshman, the association's criminal justice program director.
"There is, in this case, a wealth of evidence and judicial findings that you just do not find, in most cases where there are allegations of police misconduct," Deshman said.
"And it is deeply concerning that without further explanation, these charges will not be proceeding."
Kim Goddard, the assistant deputy minister responsible for prosecutions, did not respond to an interview request.
Justice Minister Kaycee Madu also declined an interview request.
In an emailed statement, his press secretary said Madu "is actively looking into this matter, and hopes to have more to say in the near future. However, he cannot say more at this time, as he would not want to prejudice any potential legal proceedings."
Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee also declined an interview request. In an emailed statement, EPS said it could not comment because the incident will now be the subject of an internal investigation.
Parkhurst is suing the EPS.
His lawyer, Tom Engel, said the Crown's decision not to prosecute Awid is a "miscarriage of justice" that clearly illustrates the double standard applied by the Crown to police officers.
"There is a systemic problem with accountability for police officers who criminally assault citizens, and the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service is a major player in that," said Engel, whose law practice for decades has focused on cases involving police wrongdoing.
"They will say it is the same standard. But it is a different standard that they use for prosecuting police officers who assault citizens as compared to citizens who have been alleged to have assaulted police officers. And it is just a travesty."
Heed and Engel both said the Crown's decision to stay the charge sends the message to police officers that they can get away with administering extra-judicial punishment.
Engel said it is demoralizing for good police officers when they see fellow officers get away with gross brutality.
Heed, who has extensively studied police accountability, said unless there is an outside review that provides fundamental transparency, this incident will undermine the public's faith in the integrity of the Edmonton Police Service and Alberta Justice.
"The law has to be applied equally to everyone."
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