Protest follows not guilty verdict in RNC officer Doug Snelgrove sexual assault trial

The jury deciding the fate of RNC officer Carl Douglas Snelgrove has reached a verdict of not guilty.

Demonstration held on court steps following verdict

RNC Const. Carl Douglas Snelgrove broke down in tears after the jury announced he was found not guilty of sexual assault. (Glenn Payette/CBC)

A Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador jury has ruled that RNC Const. Carl Douglas Snelgrove is not guilty of sexual assault.

The verdict was delivered in a St. John's courtroom Friday night, after a day and a half of deliberations.

Both Snelgrove and the complainant broke into tears immediately after the verdict was delivered.

Snelgrove, crying openly, was embraced by supporters who packed the public gallery, but said nothing publicly before leaving the courtroom. 

The complainant was quickly led away.

Snelgrove, 38, a 10-year veteran of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, was charged with sexually assaulting a woman shortly after giving her a ride home from downtown in a police cruiser in 2014.

He was on duty and in uniform at the time.

The case hinged on whether the complainant, who was 21 at the time, had consented to sex or was in a position to consent.

Still suspended from RNC

Defence lawyer Randy Piercey told reporters that the trial has been very difficult for Snelgrove and his family.

"They are just very relieved that it is over. I think it was a lawful and proper verdict, and now he has the opportunity to move on with his life," he said after leaving the courtroom.

"He cried, he said, 'Thank you,' and he hugged me."

The jury asked to hear the testimony of both the complainant and the accused Friday afternoon, a request granted by the judge.

They also asked Justice Valerie Marshall how to fill out the verdict sheets if they couldn't agree on a verdict.

But ultimately, a verdict was delivered just before 7 p.m.

Const. Carl Snelgrove cries after hearing the not guilty verdict Friday evening. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Piercey said he wasn't worried about the questions from the jury, but at one point thought a hung jury was possible.

Snelgrove testified during trial that the woman asked him for a ride while he was parked outside the courthouse lockup, invited him into her basement apartment and initiated sex.

The woman, who was 21 at the time she made her complaint, said the RNC constable offered her a ride after a night of drinking, and she cannot remember agreeing to have sex.

The Crown has 30 days to appeal the not guilty verdict.

Protests downtown

Demonstrators gathered on the steps of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador Trial Division on Duckworth Street following the demonstration.

About two dozen people were there at 9:30, holding signs such as "I believe her" and "too drunk to consent." 

Melanie Lynch said the result was unacceptable.

"I think it's absolutely disgusting the way our court system works. And I think it's pretty despicable that this police officer walked free tonight."

"There needs to be some justice done, I think."

Lynch suggested the case shows why women feel uncomfortable reporting sexual assaults to police.

Randy Piercey, Snelgrove's defence lawyer, said that anyone who was going to "cause an uproar" over the trial's verdict should "come to the court and watch what actually happened." (Glenn Payette/CBC)

Piercey told reporters after the verdict was delivered that he agreed with instructions the judge gave the jury, that "mere drunkenness" did not mean a person cannot consent to having sex.

"That's clearly the law, yeah. I mean, if people got drunk and had sex and got charged with it — well, [there'd be] a lot of charges coming," he said.

If you are going to cause an uproar, come to the court and watch what actually happened.- Randy Piercey

Piercey also had a challenge for people who have been critical on social media about the trial.

"If you are going to cause an uproar, come to the court and watch what actually happened."

It is uncertain what's next for the RNC officer, who was suspended without pay since charges were laid.

Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Chief Bill Janes said in a statement that Snelgrove would remain suspended until the RNC's own complaints process is concluded. (CBC)

In a statement following the verdict, RNC Chief William Janes said Snelgrove will continue to be suspended without pay until after the appeal period is over, and until the matter is addressed through the RNC Public Complaints Commission.

"I want to assure the public that we do not tolerate inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour," James wrote.

"We encourage any person who has been the victim of a sexual assault to come forward; all complaints will be thoroughly investigated."

With files from Curtis Rumbolt and Glenn Payette