Waterloo region officer guilty of wrongful arrest and excessive force, cleared of racial profiling

A Waterloo region constable has been found guilty of two counts of misconduct under the Ontario's Police Services Act but not guilty of bias after a woman alleged he racially profiled her during a traffic stop.

Const. Jesse Foster faced allegations by Natasha Broomes after 2017 traffic incident

A Waterloo regional police officer has been found guilty of two counts of misconduct under Ontario's Police Services Act but not guilty of racial bias in a traffic-stop case involving a woman who lived in Cambridge at the time. (Colin Butler/CBC)

A Waterloo region police officer has been found guilty of two counts of misconduct under the Ontario's Police Services Act and not guilty of racial discrimination against a woman he followed to her home as part of a traffic stop. 

Const. Jesse Foster is guilty of committing an unlawful or unnecessary arrest, as well as excessive force, in the 2017 detention of Natasha Broomes, hearing officer Debra Preston told a virtual tribunal Tuesday morning. 

Foster had also been charged with discreditable conduct, contrary to his obligation to provide police services equally without discrimination. Broomes, a Black woman, had accused Foster of racially profiling. He was found not guilty. 

The arrest happened in the early morning of July 29, 2017. Foster, of the Waterloo Regional Police Service, was on patrol when a weapons call came in indicating a Black man with dreadlocks had left the scene in a red SUV. 

Soon after, Foster saw what he believed was a red or burgundy SUV driving at a high speed. He made a U-turn and caught up with the vehicle, but has testified he couldn't see who was inside. The driver was Broomes, now 44, who lived in Cambridge at the time. 

He followed her back to her home on Crombie Street. Foster has said he ran the car's licence plate through a mobile data terminal, but didn't have time to look at the results by the time they got there. 

He also didn't call dispatch and ask for help in identifying the vehicle, Preston said. 

Officer acted on 'tunnel vision'

In her decision, Preston said officers have a duty to consider all information — not just what is incriminating. Foster, she said, was acting based on "tunnel vision."  

"He had a single-minded concentration on the red SUV from the weapons call and did not take into account other information," said Preston in her decision. 

When they arrived at Broomes's home, Foster told her he was looking for a red SUV that matched hers, and it reportedly had a gun inside. Broomes has said she giggled at the absurdity of the idea and walked toward her house. Foster asked her for her driver's licence, but Broomes said she didn't have it and kept going. 

At that point, Foster decided to arrest her under the Highway Traffic Act (HTA) for failing to identify herself. 

No reasonable grounds

But under the HTA, Preston noted, officers have to give people an opportunity to provide alternate identification — which Foster didn't do. 

Foster didn't tell Broomes why he wanted her licence or he'd seen her speeding, so Broomes would have been unaware of her obligation to provide her licence.

"This arrest was unlawful and it was unnecessary," said Preston. 

"He did not have reasonable grounds under the Criminal Code to effect the arrest and he did not have grounds to use the HTA to identify an individual to further a criminal investigation." 

During the arrest, Broomes said, Foster grabbed her arm and slammed her against her car before pinning her to the ground.  

Given that force was used in the context of an unlawful or unnecessary arrest, Foster's use of force was also unlawful, Preston said. 

Officer fixated on SUV: hearing officer

On the allegation of racial profiling, Preston noted Foster wasn't making random traffic stops. Instead, he was operating based on information about a particular red SUV and a suspect description of a Black man with dreadlocks, she said. 

Preston said she was concerned about Foster's behaviour, including his quick decision to make an erroneous arrest under the HTA without calling dispatch or backup about the situation. 

But she suggested Foster was fixated on the red SUV, more so than the race or gender of the driver. 

"I agree that the race of the driver factored into Const. Foster's decision-making, but this was not an arrest made because of Ms. Broomes's race," she wrote. 

A date for Foster's sentencing is expected to be set later this month.