Nova Scotia

Former Halifax police officer convicted of assaulting homeless man

A former Halifax police officer has been convicted for a second time of assaulting a homeless man, after a judge ruled Monday the force he used during the encounter was 'excessive' and beyond what was necessary.

Halifax provincial court judge called punch to man's face a 'haymaker'

A sentencing hearing for Laurence Gary Basso is schedule for April 25 in Halifax provincial court. (CBC)

A former Halifax police officer has been convicted for a second time of assaulting a homeless man, after a judge ruled Monday the force he used during the encounter four years ago was "excessive" and beyond what was necessary.

Laurence Gary Basso was found guilty in June 2019 of assault causing bodily harm in relation to an incident outside a Halifax shelter that was captured on video surveillance.

That conviction was overturned by the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal in December 2020, and a new trial was ordered. His second trial took place over seven days in September and December 2021.

On Feb. 25, 2018, Basso — who was then a constable with the Halifax Regional Police — was called to the Metro Turning Point Centre on Barrington Street to remove Patrice Simard.

Simard had been caught drinking in his bunk, a violation of the shelter's rules.

Surveillance footage showed Basso punching Simard in the face, which Basso said was a reaction to Simard punching him in the thigh. He testified his instinct and his training told him to end the confrontation quickly and place the person under control.

Simard's nose was broken in the incident.

Threat of Simard was 'extremely minimal'

In a decision handed down Monday, Halifax provincial court Judge Paul Scovil said the blow to Simard's face was "excessive and unreasonable."

"I find that Mr. Simard may have made contact with Constable Basso's leg, but it was not a punch," the decision said. 

"Even if it was, the very low threat posed by the 55-year-old ... intoxicated Simard who was on his knees, was extremely minimal, if any, at all at that point.

"While we are not to judge the niceties of police actions, such as this, Constable Basso's reaction went beyond what was reasonably necessary."

In his decision, Scovil said he had concerns that Basso was not being forthright with the court.

He noted that Basso was adamant that he struck Simard with a palm strike to the face, but the video "clearly shows Const. Basso using a closed fist punch delivered with what could be termed as a haymaker."

The decision also noted that Simard testified at the first trial in 2018, but died some time after in British Columbia. His testimony at the first trial was entered as evidence for the second trial.

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 25 in Halifax provincial court.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aly Thomson

Reporter/Editor

Aly Thomson is an award-winning journalist based in Halifax who loves helping the people of her home province tell their stories. She is particularly interested in issues surrounding justice, education and the entertainment industry. You can email her with tips and feedback at aly.thomson@cbc.ca.

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