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RCMP witness testifies he saw Yellowknife officer punch prisoner in the head

The first witness in the assault trial of two Yellowknife RCMP officers told the court Monday that he saw one of them punch a prisoner in the head while she was being searched.

Cpl. Jason Archer and Const. Francessca Bechard are each facing one count of assault

Const. Francessca Bechard with her lawyer, Robb Beeman, centre, and Cpl. Jason Archer, right. Bechard and Archer are each facing one count of assault for an alleged excessive use of force on a prisoner in October 2020. (CBC News)

The first witness in the assault trial of two Yellowknife RCMP officers told the court Monday that he saw one of them punch a prisoner in the head while she was being searched.

Cpl. Jason Archer and Const. Francessca Bechard are each facing one count of assault for allegedly using excessive force on 25 year-old Tracella Romie at the Yellowknife detachment in October 2020.

Const. Robert Gossmann told the Territorial Court that he was dispatched to a Yellowknife liquor store the afternoon of Oct. 14, 2020. He said he was told Romie was intoxicated inside the liquor store, refusing to leave and assaulting staff.

The court heard several 911 calls from employees of the liquor store asking for help from police. 

Gossmann said he and a fellow officer arrested Romie and placed her in the back of a police vehicle. He said he could see the rear passenger door "flexing" and the vehicle "rocking" and he believed Romie was kicking the door from the inside.

As they drove her to the Yellowknife detachment he said she was belligerent and was yelling "nonsense."

A punch to the head

When they arrived at the detachment several minutes later, he and his partner were met by Archer and Bechard. Romie was escorted into the detachment and after an initial pat-down, Archer and Bechard removed her handcuffs to do a more thorough search.

Gossmann said that Romie was standing facing a wall with her hands above her head. One hand was held by Archer, the other by Bechard.

He said that he saw Romie turn her head toward Bechard and begin to move her hand down. It's then, he said, that he saw Bechard "strike her in the head with a punch". 

Gossmann initially testified that he thought Bechard was trying to "gain control" of Romie but later said he was shocked by what happened.

"I didn't see anything specific that led to that other than her put[ing] her arm down. I didn't see her try and get away or take a swing," Gossmann testified.

"I don't know if I missed something … I felt disappointed in the situation, that something like that had to occur."

Not 'her finest hour'

Gossmann said Romie was then brought into a cell used to house drunk prisoners and was laid face down on the floor while officers removed her sweater. 

He said that when he returned to work the next day, he went in to check on Romie. He said he told her that she was being charged with assault and mischief but that she was being released from cells. Gossmann said he didn't observe any injuries on Romie.

He said Romie then asked him if she could charge "that blonde b–ch." He said he told her she could and asked if she wanted to speak to a lawyer. She said yes and he began to lead her to another room to call one, but he said she changed her mind.

Gossmann said he then brought her to the front of the detachment to sign her release papers. He said she kept asking him what the female officer's name was. He told her Bechard's name and said he even wrote it down for her. 

While Romie was signing paperwork, Gossmann said Archer was just feet away from them and could easily overhear.

After she left, Gossmann said he went into Archer's office and Archer asked him if what Romie was inquiring about had to do with the incident the night before. Gossmann said he told him he believed she wanted to make a complaint to which Archer replied that he had already spoken to Bechard who had apparently admitted that "it wasn't her finest hour."

Gossmann said Archer told him that he would speak to Bechard to find out what happened.

Gossmann is scheduled to be cross examined Tuesday morning. The trial is expected to wrap up Friday. 

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled the surname of Robert Gossmann as Grossman. This story has also been updated to correct the spelling of Francessca Bechard's given name.
    May 31, 2022 10:20 AM CT

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hilary Bird

Reporter

Hilary Bird is a reporter with CBC North in Yellowknife. She has been reporting on Indigenous issues and politics for almost a decade and has won several national and international awards for her work. Hilary can be reached at hilary.bird@cbc.ca

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