Nfld. & Labrador

Sex assault left Jane Doe suicidal, court hears, as Doug Snelgrove awaits sentence

The victim of an assault by an on-duty St. John's police officer told the Supreme Court she's lived with trauma from the crime — and the ensuing trials — for seven years.

Crown recommends 5 years behind bars for St. John's police officer

Doug Snelgrove was convicted in May of sexually assaulting a young woman in 2014. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

A St. John's police officer convicted in May of sexually assaulting a young woman is now behind bars, waiting for a Supreme Court justice to hand down his sentence.

Doug Snelgrove, a constable with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary for 16 years, remained expressionless behind a face mask in court on Wednesday as he listened to an impact statement from the victim of his crime, who can't be identified under Canadian law.

The woman, known widely as Jane Doe throughout three highly publicized trials since 2017, offered a four-page letter detailing the effects of the assault, investigation and multiple trials on her life.

"It's difficult to put into words how much of an emotional impact the events of that night [have] had," she wrote. "Not a single day passes without it coming to my mind. It will live with me until the day I die, haunting my thoughts."

The woman described being in physical pain for a week after her assault, and says she quickly spiralled into a state of depression and anxiety, at one point requiring admittance to the Waterford Hospital in St. John's after overdosing on medications.

That was an attempt to take her own life, she said.

Testifying in court three times, and repeated exposure to the case from media and online commentary, left her unable to speak about it willingly in therapy, the letter continued.

"I never expected to be reading about myself and my assault on social media, having everything I did or didn't do picked apart," she wrote. "The trial would come up in conversation with those around me, while no one knew it was me.… It was a constant reminder."

Snelgrove was remanded into custody Wednesday to await sentencing on Nov. 12. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

The letter is the first public statement made by Jane Doe aside from her testimony. She described throwing her energy into school and work over the course of the trials, moving away from St. John's after finishing college to avoid triggers in the city where she was assaulted.

Even now, she said, the sight of a police car or an authority figure launches her into a panic attack, and she finds herself withdrawing from family when anxiety strikes.

She said she still finds it difficult to sleep through the night.

"Once court is over, I'd tell myself," she wrote. "I'll get help once court is over."

Assault not a crime: spouse

Snelgrove was arrested in 2015 and stood trial three times before being found guilty in May, after a court heard that he drove the woman home from a club in his patrol car and assaulted her in her apartment. Jane Doe testified she did not remember consenting to any of the acts between them.

Diana Parsons, who has been married to Snelgrove for 20 years, offered the bench a defence of her husband's character, telling Justice Vikas Khaladkar she would be "always by his side."

Snelgrove, pictured here immediately after his conviction in May, stood trial three times for the same sexual assault charge due to errors made on the judge's bench. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

She smiled at her husband as she entered the witness stand, describing in detail Snelgrove's military and law enforcement career.

In spite of the "unimaginable trauma" he encountered as a soldier in Kosovo, she said, "he continued on with a life of service," graduating from a police academy in 2004 and landing a job as an officer in St. John's, his hometown.

The news of the sexual assault allegations "came as a complete shock" to those around him, Parsons said, speaking evenly throughout her statement.

"The man I know is not capable of this," she recalled thinking, characterizing Snelgrove as an "amazing" husband who wouldn't jeopardize his career. "It felt like we were talking about someone else."

Parsons said the ensuing trials and eventual conviction led her husband to depression and suicidal ideation. The ordeal and his infidelity "almost destroyed us," she added.

A sob from Snelgrove punctured the courtroom, who visibly wept throughout much of Parsons' statement.

"I'm not here … because I'm OK with what Doug did," she said. "His actions were inexcusable."

While Parsons considers the assault "morally wrong," she refused to accept it as a crime, instead arguing that Snelgrove was convicted in the "court of public opinion."

"For more than six years now his face and name have been a constant presence in the media," she said. "He stood in the face of relentless negative publicity, amid protests and scathing personal attacks."

Parsons's speech did not contain an apology to Jane Doe or mention specifically the effect of Snelgrove's crime on his victim. 

"There are simply no words to describe the shock and sadness we both felt when a jury found him guilty in the end," she said.

Crown recommends 5-year sentence

Crown counsel Lloyd Strickland asked the justice to declare a sentence at the higher end of the average, recommending five years' imprisonment and designation as a registered sex offender.

Strickland said the sentence should serve as a deterrent to people in positions of trust and restore public faith in the RNC.

"This crime is the sort that shocks the community," Strickland said. "It's a stain on the entire administration of justice."

His comments come weeks after sex abuse litigator Lynn Moore revealed that more than a dozen women had come forward with allegations against eight RNC officers, embroiling the force in further scrutiny. 

Prosecutor Lloyd Strickland argued on Wednesday that Snelgrove's sentence should deter others in positions of power from abusing trust. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

The deep impact of Snelgrove's crime on Jane Doe should also be considered, Strickland added.

Snelgrove's lawyer, Randy Piercey, cited a list of precedents, pointing out what he called "far worse" sexual assaults that received shorter sentences than the Crown's recommendation.

He asked Khaladkar for a sentence of 18 to 24 months.

Khaladkar ordered Snelgrove into custody for the first time since his conviction. Snelgrove, who remains a sworn police officer with the RNC, will remain behind bars until sentencing on Nov. 12.

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