Officers 'savagely beat' suspect in drug arrest, former constable says

A former Edmonton police officer testified Wednesday he witnessed three officers “savagely beat” a suspected drug trafficker.

'After that assault, no one trusted each other,' says former EPS member

Former Edmonton police officer Derek Huff. (CBC)

A former Edmonton police officer testified Wednesday he witnessed three officers "savagely beat" a suspected drug trafficker.

Derek Huff spent all day Wednesday testifying at a police disciplinary hearing.  

Constables Jack Redlick and Jason Kemp are both charged with excessive use of force.

The same charge will be withdrawn against Const. Craig Offin, who resigned from the force this week.

Huff testified he watched in horror as Kazimierz Kozina was assaulted on February 11, 2010.  An undercover officer was conducting an operation called a "buy and bust." The idea was to purchase illegal drugs from the target, then use other officers to swoop in and make an arrest.  

Huff said the drug buy went as planned inside the undercover officer's car, and by the time he and his partner got to the scene, Redlick, Kemp and Offin were already pulling Kozina out of the passenger seat. He testified the officers "aggressively" threw Kozina to the ground.

"And when he's taken to the ground, all three members are on top of him," Huff said.

Fists to the face

The officers cuffed Kozina's hands behind his back. Huff testified that's when the officers started punching the suspect in the upper body and face. He said the constables were each using both fists and estimated at least 15 to 20 punches were thrown.  

Huff said the only sound he could hear was "fists making contact with the face."

Shocked by what he had just witnessed, he decided to turn a blind eye.  

He went back to his unmarked vehicle, parked about three car lengths away. He testified that Kemp walked by his car, rubbing his jaw. He overheard Kemp say to his partner, "I can't believe you just punched me in the face."

"They couldn't control their punches," Huff said, "so they actually hit one of their own."

The injury to Const. Kemp became important later that night. The arresting officers blamed Kozina for assaulting Kemp, and claimed that led them to use necessary force to get Kozina under control.

Huff stayed quiet and refused to fill out a report.

"It was kind of the hardest decision to make, because I've never been that kind of officer," he testified. "I don't do that kind of stuff."

Kozina had to undergo surgery for a broken orbital bone. He also suffered spinal injuries.

Huff said he quietly took his concerns to his sergeant a couple of days later, and ultimately got the green light to pretend he'd never been there. But morale on the squad was permanently damaged.  

"After that assault, no one trusted each other," Huff said. "I didn't want anything to do with them. I didn't want to wait for the next time. It was ugly for everybody."

He claimed Redlick's aggressive behavior continued. He said Redlick's "famous phrase," which he constantly used, was "snitches are bitches, and bitches die."

Diagnosed with severe depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, Huff went on medical leave in April 2012 and resigned as a police officer a year later.  

Defence suggests assault never happened

Lawyers for Constables Redlick and Kemp both suggested Huff made up the whole thing, that he never saw Kozina's arrest and never witnessed an assault.  

"You didn't see it. You were trying to get at these three members you didn't like," said Redlick's lawyer, Mike Danyluik.

"You knew your career was over. You knew you were done with EPS. You'd lost the battle.  Because, like a caged animal, you were trying to fight back with everything you had. So you made up the story."

Huff adamantly denied the defence lawyer's suggestions.

Meanwhile, Huff faces two criminal charges for allegedly uttering death threats against Redlick and Kemp.  

He admitted during cross-examination he sent an email to another police officer at the end of last year, and wrote something about getting a gun to kill Redlick and Kemp and their families.

That testimony cannot be used against Huff when he goes to trial in June.