Husband and wife testify race played a role in late-night park arrest
Officers' lawyers say case is about man's failure to answer questions rather than alleged racism
A Halifax man and his spouse testified Thursday in front of a police review board that they believe race played a role in his 2018 arrest and jailing after they'd stopped in park to make a quick phone call.
The hearing resumed Thursday after Nova Scotia's Police Review Board ruled the complaint by Adam LeRue, who is Black, and his spouse Kerry Morris, who is white, could proceed against two Halifax police officers.
LeRue's lawyer, Ashley Hamp-Gonsalves, told the hearing the officers overreacted after the couple pulled their vehicle into Halifax's Sir Sandford Fleming Park for a cellphone call on Feb. 12, 2018. She says the outcome would have been different had LeRue been white.
Morris, who has been LeRue's spouse for 20 years, testified that for years LeRue had told her stories about being pulled over by police for questioning. "I feel Adam is a target, a target for being racially profiled," she said.
LeRue alleged he alone was targeted with hefty fines for failing to provide identification and for being in the park after its 10 p.m. closing time while others in the area at the same time weren't punished.
However, lawyers for the two officers, constables Brent Woodworth and Kenneth O'Brien, said in their opening statement the case is about LeRue's and Morris's failure to answer simple questions and obey police commands rather than about alleged systemic racism in the police department.
LeRue was charged with obstruction of justice and taken to jail, where he says he suffered overnight because he didn't have access to his asthma medication.
James Giacomantonio, the lawyer for O'Brien, told LeRue and Morris during cross-examination that minutes before the incident, his client had stopped a white man driving in the park with others in his car, and the man had provided identification and then been allowed to leave with a warning.
LeRue and Morris replied they hadn't been aware of that but said it didn't change their view that they had been mistreated.
LeRue testified he felt uncomfortable from the outset with O'Brien, in part because of negative experiences with Halifax police in the past. The 42-year-old Halifax resident said when O'Brien pulled into the parking lot and shone his police car lights on his Range Rover, he had a "here we go" moment.
LeRue told the hearing that he refused the officer's request for identification and asked to see O'Brien's supervisor. "He could have just asked me to leave," LeRue said. "I could see he wanted something more than that."
LeRue said in the past, supervisors had come to the scene after he had been stopped and they had de-escalated tensions. The lawyers for the officers told the hearing that the supervisor that night wasn't available and that LeRue was informed of this.
'I was very upset'
Giacomantonio said LeRue refused O'Brien's offer to sign a promise to appear in court rather than go to jail. LeRue replied that he didn't fully understand what he was being asked to sign when he refused. He said he was angry and cursed at the officers during the arrest as Morris was pulled from the vehicle, but he said he didn't resist arrest or obstruct the officers.
"I was mad. I was very upset," he said, recalling his emotions as the officers handcuffed Morris and searched the vehicle. "I was angry. I'd seen a stranger (Woodworth) put a hand on my wife."
Morris, who is also a complainant in the case, stood up during her testimony to show how Woodworth pulled her from the vehicle before putting handcuffs on her. She said she didn't have a chance to get out of the car on her own.
"You were asked to exit the vehicle at least three times. Do you recall that?" Giacomantonio asked, reading to her from notes taken by Woodworth. Woodworth's notes also say he gently pulled her as he removed her from the vehicle, his lawyer said.
Morris denied the police version of events and she also denied during cross-examination that she resisted arrest. The five-foot-one woman said she was very frightened and was crying as she was held in the parking lot.
Morris said that after a few minutes she was "de-arrested" and allowed to leave, adding she wonders now why she was treated differently from her spouse.
'I feel like he's being hunted'
LeRue's voice broke as he described his 15 hours in custody, saying he sat up most of the night in a holding cell and his repeated requests for his inhaler were denied.
Morris said their lives have been stressful since she laid the complaint against police on the night of LeRue's arrest. She says she no longer trusts the police and fears her husband will be arrested again.
"I feel like he's being hunted throughout his lifetime and I'm getting to see it firsthand in this interaction," she testified.
LeRue said during testimony that the obstruction of justice charge laid against him was resolved through a restorative justice program. The process required him to meet with a police official and discuss his actions.
The ticket for being in a park after hours was dropped by the Crown, LeRue said. He said he paid a fine for the ticket he received under the Motor Vehicle Act for failing to provide the officer his driver's licence.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.