Halifax police constable recalls making arrest over fear man would use pen as weapon
Const. Nicole Green appealing disciplinary decision before a 3-person review board
A Halifax police constable who used a stun gun on a man during a traffic stop on Quinpool Road three years ago offered her side of the story to a provincial board of review Thursday.
Const. Nicole Green is fighting a disciplinary decision that docked her eight hours pay and sent her to de-escalation training.
Green was the lead officer of four who conducted an arrest. She thought a man was threatening to start a fight and could have used a pen as a weapon.
The incident in December 2019 began when Green and her partner, Const. Josh Desmond, stopped the driver of a white pickup truck after a minor traffic incident.
After about 40 minutes, the traffic stop escalated to the point where the four officers wrestled the pickup truck's driver to the pavement of Quinpool Road. He was Tasered multiple times and arrested for breach of the peace.
After a complaint from the pickup driver, Clinton Fraser, an internal Halifax Regional Police investigation found Green should not have arrested Fraser.
Following the investigation by Staff Sgt. Ross Burt, Insp. Derrick Boyd reviewed Burt's work and determined that Green made the arrest without "good or sufficient cause" and used unnecessary force and unlawfully exercised authority, after which he docked her pay.
It is the decision Green is appealing before a board of three people chaired by Jean McKenna.
The investigation found the other three officers were following Green's lead. They were not penalized.
Road rage incident
Much of the testimony Wednesday and Thursday centred on a "road rage" incident that led up to the traffic stop.
Police said Fraser's pickup scraped two other vehicles when trying to merge on Quinpool Road. A female passenger in a Yaris leaned out the window to hit Fraser's vehicle when it was beside her.
Fraser testified Wednesday his truck didn't hit any other vehicles and there was no damage to it from a collision. He was upset about being ticketed and thought it was unfair that officers allowed the Yaris to leave without a ticket.
On Thursday, Green testified that everyone got out of their vehicles when she first pulled over all the cars.
"They were all yelling at each other at that point," she said.
She also testified that Fraser got out of the truck several more times to look for damage or because he wanted to take pictures for his insurance company.
"He seemed really worked up," Green said. "He was kind of yelling and moving his hands a lot. He was gesturing a lot, [saying] 'I didn't hit anybody'."
Green testified that Fraser was "confrontational," "didn't listen to officer commands," and he yelled at police various times. Fraser disagreed with that, saying that he speaks loudly.
Green made the decision to ticket Fraser and allow the other vehicles to leave without a ticket. This upset Fraser and he got out of his truck to complain about it.
The police witnesses said Fraser had a pen in his hand. Green said she believed Fraser was about to get in a fight and intended to use the pen as a weapon.
"I probably would have viewed it differently if he had been calm," she said.
No pen was recovered from the scene, and Green testified it exploded into pieces when she grabbed Fraser's hand. Fraser told the hearing he didn't have a pen in his hand at that time.
Surveillance video shown at the hearing showed Green taking hold of Fraser's right arm and Desmond attempting a choke hold before the whole group falls to the ground.
Green testified that Fraser resisted and, as he is physically larger than the officers at the scene, it took multiple people to make the arrest.
Fraser testified he thinks the officers "jumped" him.
'No threat': HRP senior officers
Burt, the senior investigating officer at HRP who looked into Fraser's complaint, wrote in documents filed in Supreme Court that he believes Green erred in making the arrest.
"I believe there was not enough effort to try and de-escalate the situation," wrote Burt, who reviewed the surveillance video from a nearby bakery.
"Yes, he was upset over the situation and what he perceived as unfair treatment. However, I did not observe any action by Mr. Fraser that led me to believe he was going to be violent with anyone, there was no threat made to anyone by him and he was not going out into the traffic and causing a safety concern. I cannot see where there was grounds to arrest him for Breach of Peace," Burt wrote.
Burt attributed the arrest and the stun gun use to the experience level of the officers. At the time Green had roughly five years of experience on the job, and Desmond had about two months of experience.
"Their combined service was less than ten years. Their handling of this situation was lacking experience," Burt wrote.
"The application of law and the ability to see various aspects of behaviour for what they are/were comes with experience and guidance and takes time to hone."
Burt acknowledged that the officers perceived Fraser as a threat, but also noted Fraser's own experiences shaped his feelings toward the traffic stop.
"One cannot ignore the fact that Mr. Fraser is African Nova Scotian," Burt wrote.
"Certainly Mr. Fraser's age, race and life experience factored into his perception about how this interaction had taken place."
Under cross-examination, Green acknowledged that Fraser never made any threats, and she could have been mistaken in her belief of what Fraser was about to do, but said she didn't know what his intentions were.
She rejected the idea that Fraser's race played any role in her decision-making. Fraser told the hearing he asked during the traffic stop if he was being treated differently because of his race.
The board will receive written submissions from the lawyers for closing arguments and is expected to make a decision in several months.
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