Nfld. & Labrador

'Justice has been served,' Crown says after Snelgrove found guilty of sexual assault

Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Const. Doug Snelgrove was convicted Saturday of sexually assaulting a young woman while on duty in 2014, bringing an end to a high-profile case that struck a chord with activists across Newfoundland and Labrador.

3rd sexual assault trial of St. John's police officer ends with guilty verdict

Convicted sex offender Doug Snelgrove enters court to hear his fate on Saturday. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

Doug Snelgrove hunched forward and hung his head as a guilty verdict was read Saturday, more than six years after the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer sexually assaulted a young woman while on duty.

The jury that read his verdict returned to court three times over the course of their three-day deliberation. At times, it appeared a consensus was out of reach.

Justice Vikas Khaladkar pleaded with them Saturday morning to continue their discussion. Six hours later, they came to an agreement.

It was Snelgrove's third trial on the charge in the last four years, but the first conviction in what have all been high-profile and emotionally charged cases.

Outside the St. John's courtroom, just minutes after Snelgrove's conviction, the survivor celebrated. The woman, beaming and flanked by her family and supporters, thanked Crown attorney Lloyd Strickland for his role in securing the verdict.

"I'm just relieved that there's been a resolution to the case," Strickland told reporters. "We're relieved that justice has been served." 

Strickland said he wasn't surprised at the verdict or at the complainant's desire to testify at three trials.

"I'm very much in awe of her," he said. "Through it all she remained steady. She remained constant while the system stumbled around her a bit."

Snelgrove will attend court on June 7 to set a date for his sentencing. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

Strickland said he believes the case will set a legal precedent for courts interpreting consent laws going forward, especially when abuse of trust is at play.

"Breach of trust in these circumstances could negate consent. So I think it does move the law along," he said.

Four years ago, he continued, the court didn't accept the Crown's argument for abuse of trust. That shifted with a 2019 Supreme Court ruling.

"I think it is an important case, in that respect," he said.

Snelgrove remained in the courtroom to hear the conditions of his release until a sentencing hearing on June 7. He surrendered his passport and is not permitted to have contact with the survivor or witnesses, and will remain at an approved location to await his next court date.  

Prosecutor Lloyd Strickland, speaking to reporters just after Snelgrove's conviction, said the complainant remained 'constant' throughout three trials. (Heather Gillis/CBC)

The Crown requested that Snelgrove be held in custody until sentencing. The defence argued Snelgrove hadn't caused trouble while out on bail for the past six years.

Strickland said he hasn't settled on an argument for sentencing, but expects to advocate for jail time. The maximum sentence for sexual assault in Canada is 10 years.

Joy, relief from advocates

Across the street from where court proceedings were being held at the former School for the Deaf in St. John's, supporters erupted at news of the outcome, cheering as passing cars honked in solidarity.

Heather Elliott breathlessly described her reaction to the verdict as "elated."

"I think him being found guilty shows that you can't use the argument of, 'they didn't seem drunk,' or you can't be in a position of authority and take advantage of that, and then expect somebody to stay quiet and brush it off."

A handful of supporters celebrate across the street from the courtroom Saturday afternoon. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

Chanting demonstrators rallied at Supreme Court on Duckworth Street earlier Saturday, telling CBC News they were demanding public attention to the case.

Similar demonstrations had occurred at the previous two trials, including a large protest at RNC headquarters in 2017.

Jury concerned before verdict reached

Hours before the verdict, it wasn't clear whether the trial would continue.

On Friday night, the jury sent Khaladkar a brief note. It read, "Cannot come to unanimous decision. Next steps?"

Khaladkar pleaded with the jury, suggesting that they review the evidence and listen to each other's concerns.

He also reminded them of their oath to try to reach a verdict, but said that "in some cases, perhaps this is one, juries can't come to a conclusion."

They had previously asked Khaladkar to explain the concept of reasonable doubt and define some of the terms contained in consent law.

The verdict was read inside this makeshift courtroom at the School for the Deaf building in St. John's to allow for physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

The victim told the jury last week that she remembers only flashes of the night in question, testifying that she had at least five drinks and possibly more at a downtown St. John's nightclub. She recalled leaving the bar and getting into a patrol car with an on-duty police officer, who she said offered her a ride to her apartment.

She said she recalls the two kissing once inside her apartment, but doesn't remember why or who initiated it. Her next memory of that night was Snelgrove penetrating her while in uniform and on duty. At all three trials, she told the court she can't remember whether she consented.

Snelgrove testified that he did have sex with the woman, but that it was consensual and that she appeared sober. He said she initiated all sexual acts between them.

The case was first thrust into the spotlight after the woman reported an assault to a female RNC officer. An RCMP investigation found Snelgrove's DNA on the woman's loveseat, leading to his arrest.

Snelgrove was acquitted of sexual assault in his first trial in 2017, a verdict later overturned after an appeals court found that the presiding Supreme Court justice made a mistake when she explained the definition of consent to the jury.

Snelgrove fought that appeal, but lost, sending him back to the stand in 2020. That trial was declared void due to an error in jury dismissal.

Snelgrove has been suspended without pay from the force since 2015.

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