Winnipeg police officers tried to cover up actions after family assaulted in hotel room, judge rules
WARNING: This story contains graphic images
Four Winnipeg police officers committed "egregious conduct" when they unlawfully entered a hotel room and assaulted three people inside, then charged one of the family members to "provide a cover" for their actions, a Manitoba judge has ruled.
Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench Justice Jeffrey Harris made the ruling in a civil suit brought against the City of Winnipeg and one of the officers in connection with the Boxing Day 2014 incident.
He ordered more than $97,000 in damages be paid to the three family members for the "malicious and high-handed" actions by the officers.
"The officers entered the plaintiffs' hotel room without lawful reason and, with that knowledge, 'backfilled' a story both in the report and before this court in an attempt to justify their egregious conduct," Harris wrote in his 41-page decision, released earlier this week.
During that unlawful entry, the officers assaulted three family members, Harris ruled, one of whom suffered a concussion, a fractured nose and swelling in her face so severe she couldn't properly open her mouth for a week.
And it led to the officers trying to cover their actions by confiscating phones and an iPad so they couldn't be recorded, and laying charges against the family members, the judge wrote in his decision.
The police officers' actions must be "deterred and punished," Harris said.
"I honestly don't think I'll ever, ever, ever, fully trust another police officer again," Kyra Beaulieu, one of the family members involved in the lawsuit, told CBC News.
Hotel called police complaining about family
According to the judge's decision, on Dec. 26, 2014, Ola and Andrew Beaulieu took their two children — Kyra, 18, and Kyuss, 16 — along with Kyra's 18-year-old friend for a stay at a Winnipeg Clarion hotel as a late Christmas present.
After checking in, the family swam in the pool and ordered pizza. Ola drank five beers and Andrew had the other 10 from the 15-pack they had brought with them.
Around 11 p.m., several family members went outside to smoke, where they learned that hotel management had called police to complain that Andrew had been knocking on doors to rooms and causing a disturbance.
The family returned to their hotel room.
"All was calm in the room as they awaited the arrival of police," Harris wrote.
Then four police officers showed up at the door.
Video footage recorded during the altercation shows a very different picture from what officers described in their police report and during testimony, Harris wrote.
Police had no right to enter hotel room: judge
In his ruling, the judge said the four officers — Const. Gary Douglas Powell, Const. James William Macumber, Patrol Sgt. Darren Cote and Const. Michelle Degroot — unlawfully entered the room, without a proper reason or warrant to do so.
During trial, officers testified that hotel staff told them a minor was in the room and they were concerned about the welfare of the 16-year-old.
Officers said when they got to the door, they smelled marijuana. Macumber said he asked if anyone was smoking marijuana, and also testified he heard the occupants call them "f--king pigs."
Powell testified: "Very hysterical kids were in the suite with a very intoxicated man."
Kyra Beaulieu's video of police entering hotel room:
He also testified that he saw liquor bottles and scissors everywhere when Andrew opened the hotel room door, but during cross-examination admitted he only saw one beer bottle and one pair of scissors.
Police also said that Andrew had his fists up when he opened the door, and described him as "intoxicated, belligerent and aggressive."
The judge did not accept that explanation for entering the room.
In a video captured on Kyra's cellphone, Andrew can be seen standing "passively" as the four officers are seen entering the hotel room.
"All was quite calm and subdued," Harris wrote.
"There were no occupants yelling at the [Winnipeg Police Service] officers," Harris wrote. "The chaos that they described to the court simply did not exist."
He goes on to say "[Andrew was] telling officers again in a firm but non-aggressive voice, 'You guys are making a f--king mistake.'"
Harris also said if officers were concerned with the well-being of minors, their first question should not have been about marijuana.
"They were never welcomed into our room at all," Kyra said.
Police seized devices: judge
The video also shows that within seconds, Macumber moved toward Kyra — who was recording the four officers while sitting in a chair — and took her phone, as the video goes black.
That officer said at trial that he took the phone from Kyra because she was "getting in his face" and he was concerned she would use it as a weapon, the decision says.
"That simply did not happen," Harris wrote.
"She had been doing nothing but recording the events in the room."
Macumber then took away another family member's phone.
"I conclude that Macumber was taking steps to prevent that second phone from being used to record events yet to occur in that room," he wrote.
Shortly after the two phones were taken, the 18-year-old family friend began recording the events on her iPad.
In that video, she can be seen moving toward Macumber, asking for his badge number several times "in a polite but insistent matter," the judge said.
Officer hit woman 'with full force'
In the second video, Macumber is seen pushing Kyra onto a table. He testified that the 18-year-old had hit him, which she denied.
Even if she had hit him, though, pushing her onto the table wasn't justified, the judge ruled.
Ola, seeing her daughter pushed onto the table, ran toward the constable, screaming, "What are you doing to my daughter? She is pregnant."
Macumber then "struck the left side of [Ola's] face two to four times with his closed fist," Harris wrote, causing her to lose consciousness.
"Next thing I knew I was coming up off the ground, and I looked in the mirror and my face was dripping blood," Ola told CBC News.
Macumber said Ola threw the first punch. The judge didn't believe him, saying a picture Macumber claimed showed redness on his face did not "show any such redness."
"If Const. Macumber was acting in the course of police duties, his assault on Ola goes beyond what could be considered within a reasonable range," he wrote.
As Andrew tried to step in, Harris wrote, two officers intervened and twisted Andrew's arm, kneeing him in the thigh.
Family said they watched officers punch him.
Ola, Andrew, and Kyra were all arrested for allegedly assaulting a police officer.
Andrew was detained for two days, and Kyra and Ola were held for several hours.
Andrew pleaded guilty to causing a disturbance. The charges against Kyra were stayed after she apologized. The charge against Ola was stayed 18 months later.
Police 'created narrative': judge
Harris wrote that the charge against Ola should not have been laid at all.
"I am satisfied that by charging Ola with assaulting a [Winnipeg Police Service] officer, Const. Macumber engaged in a deliberate and improper use of his office," he wrote.
"Const. Macumber laid the charge against Ola in order to conceal his unlawful attack on her and to support the narrative that was developed to justify the unlawful entry into the Beaulieus' hotel room.
"Const. Macumber acted with malice towards her," he wrote, and "is not being honest in his evidence."
Review agency report sided with officers
A month after the incident, the family filed a complaint with the Law Enforcement Review Agency (LERA) about the officers' conduct.
A July 19, 2017, report by the agency, which reviews public complaints about police in Manitoba, said that the evidence indicated Macumber was assaulted by Kyra and Ola, leading him to defend himself.
In the report, Max Churley — LERA's commissioner at the time — wrote that the officers' accounts are consistent with each other, and with information provided by hotel staff, a hotel guest and medical staff who treated the family members.
Churley called the LERA complaint by Ola and Andrew "simply false" and said the allegations were likely due to intoxication.
He cited video evidence showed Andrew displaying "a level of behaviour toward the police that is unacceptable."
He also said the first iPad video showed someone's hand appearing to "strike or slap Const. Macumber on the face" and then the officer reacted by "pushing someone away."
The family sued the city and Macumber.
In the civil judgment, the judge did not come to the same conclusion as Churley. He said Kyra denied striking the officer and noted the iPad video shows Macumber pushing Kyra onto a table.
The judge added that "if she touched or pushed Const. Macumber, it was incidental to her lawful conduct in attempting to prevent an unlawful seizure of her friend's iPad.
In his ruling, Harris wrote Ola suffered a soft-tissue injury and needed stitches on her lip, and has a chip fracture in her nose. She also suffered a concussion that had her off work for weeks.
"It is impossible to understand how [Macumber] considered the level of force used against Ola as appropriate," Harris wrote.
She was unable to brush her teeth for a week because she could not open her mouth, the judge wrote.
Ola said she's still living with the emotional and physical pain of the event, including numbness in her cheek and nose.
"I'll never be able to forget about it because I feel it in my face every single day," Ola told CBC News. "There'll be times I'll be taking a bath and I'll feel my face, and I'll start crying."
Ola, Andrew and Kyra were awarded a total of more than $97,000 in damages, plus costs.
The Winnipeg Police Service would not say whether any of the four officers was penalized, but did say all but one of them are still employed. The fourth has retired.
"The fact that they're at least being held accountable for the decisions they made, that's huge," said Kyra.
"But there is nothing on this world that will ever, ever, ever make this any better, [than] if this one specific officer was never able to work a cop position ever again."
The Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba, which investigates serious incidents involving police, confirmed on Friday it is now investigating the incident, following the decision in the civil case.
'Officers need body cameras': lawyer
The family's lawyer, Ian Histed, says the judge's decision sends a message to police officers that their reports won't automatically be believed.
"Punching that woman in the face repeatedly as hard as he could ... there's just no way of rationalizing that kind of violence," he said.
"There's just no way of explaining why a police officer who's literally twice her size would do something like that."
He said it also shows the importance of having video footage of what happened.
"What it really shows is the importance of putting video cameras on police officers," Histed said.
"Because the first thing that these officers did once they went into the hotel room was to try and disable all the video recording equipment. The fact that they didn't quite get it all is what … made this case viable to take to trial in the way we did," he said.
"If it was not for my video — that nine seconds — this case probably wouldn't even be where it was today," Kyra said.