Nfld. & Labrador

7 years after filing a complaint against the RNC, a St. John's man is still waiting for answers

A St. John’s man is looking for answers more than seven years after he filed a complaint with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary’s Public Complaints Commission. He also wants to see an improvement in how police deal with mental health calls.

Billy Earle says police need more mental health training

Billy Earle says after more than seven years, his complaint to the RNC Public Complaints Commission about the police response to a mental health call to his home still has not been resolved. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

A St. John's man is still looking for answers more than seven years after he filed a complaint with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary's Public Complaints Commission.

Billy Earle filed a complaint with the commission after police responded to a mental health call at his house in October 2013.

The commission is a civilian body, which is independent from the Department of Justice and police. It investigates and hears public complaints against members of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. 

But years later, Earle says he still doesn't have answers about his complaint. 

Earle, who is a survivor of physical and sexual abuse at the Mount Cashel orphanage, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. 

"I was very inebriated — alcohol, drugs — just wanted to end it all, get it over with. I couldn't handle it any longer," Earle said of the 2013 incident.

He said eight officers responded to the call and blocked the road around his home. 

"I ended up getting into an altercation with them," he said. "They ended up putting me in hospital."

Earle says the RNC should have more training for mental health calls. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Earle said he has surveillance video of the altercation, which he said shows police beating him with a baton and using what he believes was excessive force. 

"They hit me across my wrist, they opened up my kneecap," he said. 

"Then when they finally got me down, subdued, well, I was under control once I was down, but then to roll me over and jump on my kneecap and squat it into the asphalt?" 

Earle said he spent 4½ hours in surgery, requiring 60 staples in his knee. He said the injury still bothers him.

"There was no need for the force endured on me," he said.

Earle said he was arrested after the incident and charged with uttering threats and possessing a weapon, but later received a complete discharge from the courts.

More mental health training needed, Earle says

He said police are only just beginning to learn how to deal with mental health calls.

"Why would they send down eight officers to a mental health call?" he asked, adding that he believes police need more training on mental health.

Earle said he's asked police and the commission for updates, but still doesn't have an answer and he feels like his complaint has fallen by the wayside.

"They always come up with an answer: 'We're doing our investigation, we're looking into certain things,'" he said. 

"One of the inspectors that did the investigation, I gotta say did a very thorough, very well job … [but] I'm not going to let go until this is put to bed," he said.

After the lengthy wait, Earle said he's losing trust in the process, a process that he'd like to move past so he can get on with his life.

"I'd like to see justice," he said.

Earle also wants to know if he's entitled to a copy of the reports about the incident after the investigation is complete.

Commission can't talk specifics

The province appointed Twila Reid as the new public complaints commissioner on Oct. 30, replacing John Rorke, who left the commission in July of last year. 

Reid says the commission receives about 50 complaints a year.

Once they accept a complaint, it is forwarded to the RNC's professional standards division, where an investigation begins and must be completed within three months. The results of that investigation are then delivered to the chief of police. 

"The chief of police can either dismiss a complaint or assign discipline to the officer," said Reid.

Earle believes his complaint is tied up with the police chief because, he said, there's no time limit dictating how long the chief has to conclude a complaint.

RNC Chief Joe Boland would not do an interview with CBC News for this story. 

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the RNC provided a statement from Boland. 

"Unfortunately, the report is inaccurate. The RNC did not receive a complaint in relation to the incident being referenced. There is no active file on the matter," reads the statement.

When it comes to what's been stalling Earle's complaint, Reid said she can't speak about individual complaints or confirm if a person has a complaint filed with their office. 

But she did say the commission's process is suspended if there's an ongoing criminal investigation under Section 43 of the RNC Act. 

In the meantime, Reid said, if the complainant isn't satisfied with the outcome they can file an appeal.

"If an appeal is filed with our office, we will do our own civilian-led investigation. And then I can choose whether to dismiss a complaint or refer to a hearing for adjudication," she said.

Twila Reid was appointed as the RNC's public complaints commissioner on Oct. 30. (Heather Gillis/CBC)

Reid said an adjudicator can decide to suspend or remove an officer from duty, if wrongdoing is found.

She said decisions from an adjudicator's hearing are posted to their website. But the commission hasn't publicly published a decision on its website since June 2014, because there have been no final decisions since then.

Meanwhile, the RNC said they won't comment on matters before the public complaints commission, leaving Earle with few answers.

In a statement before the election, the province's Department of Justice said they also won't comment while an investigation or review is ongoing.

"We are committed to accountability in dealing with serious incidents that involve our police agencies which is why we established a provincial Serious Incident Response Team," the statement read.

Earle said he is also pursuing a civil case against the force for the injury to his knee.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Heather Gillis

Journalist

Heather Gillis has been reporting in Newfoundland and Labrador since 2011.

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