Brandon police admit 'deficiencies' after losing potential video evidence in assault investigation

A Brandon, Man., woman who was allegedly assaulted says she has lost her confidence in police and any chance for justice, after important video evidence was lost in an investigation the city's top officer admits had problems. 

'I think the system is absolutely broken,' woman says after LERA complaint into investigation rejected

Brandon police Chief Wayne Balcaen says a review of the police investigation into an alleged 2020 assault showed a number of deficiencies on the part of the investigating officer. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

A Brandon, Man., woman who was allegedly assaulted says she has lost her confidence in police and any chance for justice, after important video evidence was lost in an investigation the city's top officer admits had problems. 

The woman says in May 2020, she was waiting in her car at a Brandon gas station when she was approached by two unknown people, including a woman who was behaving erratically.

"She just approached the side of the vehicle and she started punching me [through an open car window] — my face and my throat, and she started spitting on me," said Andrea, a pseudonym for the complainant, whom CBC is not identifying due to her concerns about safety.

Andrea says the two people who approached her then got into their vehicle and sped off.

"It was a very aggressive attack," Andrea said in an interview. "I was very shocked. Kind of horrified."

The events were captured on security camera video at the gas station.

Andrea went to hospital, where an exam found bruising and pain around her face, but nothing broken. 

She says she was in contact with police periodically about the investigation over the months that followed.

The exterior of a windowed building with a sign reading "Brandon Police Service" is shown.
A review has confirmed a USB stick containing video surveillance from the Brandon gas station where an assault happened was lost by police during the investigation. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Almost a year later — in March 2021 — police told her they had lost the security video, which was on a USB stick at the police station, Andrea says.

The investigating officer also told her that at that point, a gas station employee who may have seen what happened had not been interviewed by police.

Police have not laid any charges in the incident.

Investigation reviewed

Two years after the incident, Brandon Police Service Chief Wayne Balcaen now says a review of the police investigation was conducted that "showed a number of deficiencies on the part of the investigating officer — one of which was the loss of a USB [device] containing video surveillance from the business at which the incident occurred."

A member of the police executive has been in touch with the complainant several times to address her concerns about the investigation, and measures are being taken to ensure future investigations are "of the high quality that the public expects," Balcaen told CBC News in a written statement.

The review found Brandon Police Service policy to be adequate, he said. But asked whether any officer faced discipline over the case, he said the police service "does not disclose employee discipline matters."

In response to Balcaen's statement, Andrea says she's glad police admit there were faults in the investigation, but that it took far too long to state that.

"Victims of crimes don't deserve to have to relive the event over and over by fighting for answers to their own cases," she said. "Until we have a system that holds them accountable, nothing is going to get better."

LERA complaint filed

When police told Andrea in 2021 the video was lost, she filed a complaint with the Law Enforcement Review Agency, which investigates complaints from civilians about municipal police services in Manitoba. 

Andrea says she filed it within a week of being informed police had lost the video, but it was rejected on the grounds it exceeded a 30-day time limit for filing complaints in effect at that time — a restriction the provincial government is removing under legislation passed this year. 

"I was very upset," she said. "I was tired of having to push for a year to get any kind of answers."

She thinks LERA erred in starting the 30-day time period from the time of the alleged assault, rather than when she was informed about the lost video.

"We can't control the information the police give us or when they give it to us," Andrea said, pointing out they had told her to allow them time to investigate.

"I think the police hiding the fact the evidence was missing, for however long it may have been, was tampering with the ability to file a complaint."

Under the new legislation the province passed, the time limit for filing a complaint will be 180 days after an incident, which brings Manitoba in line with other provinces where the deadline is six months or a year.

"I'm glad that they're doing that, because … [the 30-day limit is] absolutely is something that should be done away with," Andrea said.

'Quality of service issues'

LERA commissioner Andrew Minor declined comment on the issue. CBC also requested comment from the justice minister, but has not received a response.

In correspondence with Andrea, which she shared with CBC News, Minor said she did not meet the timeline for submitting a complaint.

"I understand that you were informed of the loss of video footage last month and that you have concerns with the management of the investigation into the incident that you reported," he said in an April 2021 email to her.

He called her concerns "quality of service issues" and said they were not within the scope of the Law Enforcement Review Agency to investigate.

Andrea says the fact that no charges were laid, along with her LERA complaint being rejected, makes the 2020 incident even worse.

"I think the system is absolutely broken. My case was such a clearcut picture of negligence and of abuse of power, and I documented everything to the best of my ability," she said.


Vera-Lynn Kubinec is a producer with CBC Manitoba's I-Team investigative unit, based in Winnipeg.