Nfld. & Labrador

Woman accusing constable of rape delayed reporting, feared police wouldn't believe her

The complainant in the retrial of Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer Doug Snelgrove testified Thursday.

Warning: This story contains graphic testimony of an alleged sexual assault

RNC Const. Doug Snelgrove, middle, exits Supreme Court at the School for the Deaf in St. John's Thursday. He's facing one count of sexual assault. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

It was several weeks until the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary knew details of a night now facing scrutiny in a St. John's courtroom for a second time.

Even then, allegations against one of their own came to light partially due to chance.

The jury for Const. Doug Snelgrove's sexual assault retrial heard testimony from witnesses and the complainant Thursday, detailing how the alleged 2014 assault came to the attention of the force.

Const. Kelsey Muise was responding to a call from a panicked young woman, alone and intoxicated, Muise told the court. It was January 2015.

When she picked her up on the side of the road, the woman revealed to Muise that a few weeks earlier, one of the officer's colleagues had assaulted her.

Muise testified that she pulled over into a Needs Convenience parking lot, hitting the squad car's dome light and turning to her passenger to hear the full story.

Muise's report on the accusation eventually led to a criminal investigation involving the Ontario Provincial Police. The prosecutor read evidence that Snelgrove's coffee mug, seized later in 2015, contained DNA that matched organic material on the complainant's couch, where the assault allegedly occurred.

That placed Snelgrove inside the woman's apartment, Crown prosecutor Lloyd Strickland argued — and there's a one in 70 quintillion chance, according to the analysis he submitted, that it was somebody else.

Snelgrove offered ride home: complainant

The complainant, who was 21 at the time of the alleged crime, dabbed at her face with a tissue upon entering the witness box Thursday morning. But as she spoke, her voice remained measured and calm.

The woman, who can't be identified due to Canada's mandatory publication bans on complainants of sexual violence, said she'd been dancing with friends at a St. John's nightclub. She downed five strong coolers, and at least one more drink at the bar, according to another witness.

She testified she realized she was too drunk for the bar, and left in search of a cab home. That's when she encountered Snelgrove's squad car. According to the woman, the officer inside, who she'd never met, rolled down his passenger window and asked if she needed a ride.

"I was highly intoxicated," she said. "I thought it would be safer to go with a police officer if he was asking."

Snelgrove, right, has yet to testify in this trial. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

During cross-examination, defence counsel Randy Piercey asked whether the complainant had given Snelgrove directions to her home. She had, she said. 

He asked if she remembered flirting with Snelgrove, or him flirting with her. She could not recall, she answered.

At her basement apartment, the woman said she insisted on going inside, intending to sleep, despite not being able to find her keys. She assumes Snelgrove helped her through a window, but can't remember it. She says she let him in the front door because he wanted to make sure she was OK.

At that point in her testimony, the complainant's voice broke, and she struggled to compose herself.

"I can't remember much after that. I remember sitting on my loveseat because I was too drunk to stand up," she recalled. 

"The next thing I remember is, I came to and he was having anal sex with me."

Defence counsel Randy Piercey and Jon Noonan, shown here in a file photo, are representing Snelgrove. (Ryan Cooke/CBC)

Piercey pushed for details, referring to testimony from the previous trial. He asked if the two kissed.

She did remember them kissing, she said, before she sat down.

In her testimony, the woman described her memory of the event — seeing her clothes scattered around the couch, with Snelgrove still in his uniform, penetrating her in the same position she'd been sitting in.

Then, another blank. The next thing she remembers is Snelgrove in the bathroom, cleaning up after the alleged act.

She noticed friction burns on her thighs the next day, she said, and assumed that's where his uniform had rubbed against her skin.

The woman testified she can't remember whether she agreed to have sex with Snelgrove.

Piercey asked if she had ever been told she looked sober when, in fact, she had blacked out.

"I'm usually very obviously drunk," she replied.

Another witness, who spoke to the woman just before she entered her apartment, told the court she was slurring her words and speaking in short, choppy sentences.

Trial resumes Monday

The next morning, the woman contemplated calling police, but didn't. 

"Nobody would believe me because I was a drunk girl with a police officer," she said. "And it was the same police."

Judge Garrett Handrigan told the jury they must establish that Snelgrove touched the complainant intentionally in a sexual manner, that she did not consent to it, and that Snelgrove was aware she did not consent.

He reminded the jury that someone who is unconscious or asleep cannot consent.

If they find each of those facts to be true based on testimony and evidence, they must find Snelgrove guilty, Handrigan said.

More witnesses will testify Monday.

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