Nova Scotia

Halifax police officer Matthew MacGillivray speaks at appeal of demotion for excessive force

The Halifax police officer fighting to reinstate his rank says he was afraid for his life during the traffic stop of a P.E.I. couple in September of 2015.

Commission found he used excessive force, was discourteous in traffic stop

Matthew MacGillivray arrested Angela Acorn last September, as seen in this screenshot from a video of the encounter. (Graham Labonte)

A Halifax police officer fighting to reinstate his rank says he was afraid for his life during the traffic stop of a P.E.I. couple in September of 2015.

Const. Matthew MacGillivray is appealing his demotion from sergeant before the province's police review board.

"I remember the fists and [my] jaw dropped," MacGillivray testified today about his encounter with Graham Labonte at the side of Highway 102. 

"I thought that he was going to pummel me," he said.

Contentious situation

Labonte was driving his wife, Angela Acorn, to an appointment with a pain specialist in Nova Scotia when they say they noticed MacGillivray driving erratically, swerving between lanes in his police cruiser.

They say that Labonte eventually passed him at about 115 km/h and that MacGillivray gestured in frustration as they drove by. MacGillivray pulled them over to give a warning for speeding. 

The traffic stop quickly became contentious.

Acorn got out of the car and, MacGillivray said, ignored his instructions to return to the vehicle.

Within 25 seconds, Acorn was under arrest, and MacGillivray was restraining her by holding her arms from behind.

That's when Labonte also got out of his car.

'He looked mad'

A Halifax police officer is appealing his demotion over his use of force during an arrest a year ago. 0:40

"He looked mad," said MacGillivray, "He looked like he was not happy with me at all."

Labonte is the volunteer fire chief of Belle River, P.E.I. He stands six feet tall and says he weighed 270 pounds at the time of the confrontation.

MacGillivray testified today that he is six feet tall and weighs 162 pounds.

"I'm not built to be a fighter," he said.

MacGillivray said at that moment he was scared of being overpowered.

"I thought that if he got close enough to me that he could hit me, it would not take more than one punch from him to lay me out," he said.

Response not ideal, says officer

MacGillivray said he unhooded his pistol holster because he thought his life could be at risk.

"I wanted to be able to get to my firearm quickly, so I could save my life and go home to my kids," he said.

MacGillivray testified he also held Acorn in front of him as a "shield" against Labonte.

"When he saw that he stopped moving forward, and I was very happy about that," he said.

Under cross-examination from Halifax Regional Police lawyer Katherine Salsman, MacGillivray admitted this wasn't an ideal response, but said it was the best option he had at the time.

Semantics debate key

Salsman's cross examination focused closely on the 54 seconds from the time MacGillivray approached the car and his radio call for backup, by which time Acorn was already under arrest.

MacGillivray admits he only gave Acorn one or two seconds to comply to his final order to return to the car before restraining her.

At one point a debate broke out about what exactly Acorn was shouting in a short video of the arrest Labonte shot on his cellphone.

Salsman thinks she shouted, "I was going to my car." But the board chair hears the words, "I was going to go to my car."

It's a key point because it speaks to whether Acorn was complying with MacGillivray's orders when she was arrested.

The hearing enters its final day Thursday.

The CBC's Jack Julian live blogged the hearing, which is scheduled to continue until Friday.

About the Author

Jack Julian

Reporter

Jack Julian joined CBC Nova Scotia as an arts reporter in 1997. His news career began on the morning of Sept. 3, 1998 following the crash of Swissair 111. He is now a data journalist in Halifax, and you can reach him at (902) 456-9180, by email at jack.julian@cbc.ca or follow him on Twitter @jackjulian