Nova Scotia

Judge releases video of Halifax officer assaulting homeless man

Const. Laurence Gary Basso, a Halifax Regional Police officer, has been found guilty of assault causing bodily harm for punching a homeless man in 2018.

Const. Laurence Gary Basso found guilty of assault causing bodily harm for punching Patrice Simard

In a still from surveillance footage, Const. Laurence Gary Basso is seen punching Patrice Simard outside Metro Turning Point shelter in February 2018. (CBC)

A Halifax Regional Police officer has been found guilty of assault causing bodily harm for punching a homeless man last year outside a shelter, an incident that was captured on video surveillance.

Judge Laurel Halfpenny-Macquarrie ruled Wednesday in Halifax provincial court that Const. Laurence Gary Basso wasn't justified when he hit Patrice Simard after being called to remove him from the Metro Turning Point shelter.

The defence had argued that Simard had punched Basso, 38, in the leg, but Halfpenny-Macquarrie found that was not the case. She ruled Basso's response wasn't proportionate and said the constable broke Simard's nose.

During the trial earlier this year, the court viewed video surveillance footage of the February 2018 incident. Basso had been called because Simard had been caught drinking in his bunk, in violation of the rules.

The video was released publicly Wednesday.

Halfpenny-Macquarrie found Basso not guilty of an additional charge of public mischief after the Crown alleged he wrote police reports and notes including information he knew was false about the incident.

A breach of trust charge had been previously dropped.

Basso's notes at odds with video, says judge

In the video, Basso is seen waving Simard's backpack in front of him. Basso testified that they were in a "tug of war" over the bag.

Halfpenny-Macquarrie rejected that and said it "looked like a game of fetch."

Basso's own notes were at odds with the video, said the judge, who added that notes are nowhere more important than when an assault has taken place.

Basso's notes did not indicate that he was hit in the leg. Halfpenny-Macquarrie said that was "not a reconcilable error."

His notes also stated that he delivered a quick jab — not a punch to Simard's face.

'An abuse of authority,' says Crown

Crown attorney Peter Dostal said outside court that the surveillance footage from the shelter rebutted Basso's evidence. He said he was pleased with the judge's decision.

"What we see this case as being, and that's been consistent from the very beginning, is that this case relates to the use of self-defence to mask what is ultimately an abuse of authority on the part of this particular officer on this particular day," Dostal said.

"The judge rightfully pointed out numerous times that these notes having been scant — and what I would suggest is self-serving — goes to show that there is a robust accountability system within the justice system to make sure that when police are engaging with the public they are held to account by their notes."

Const. Gary Basso leaves a Halifax courtroom Wednesday after being found guilty of assault causing bodily harm. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

Defence lawyer James Giacomantonio said the ruling was not the outcome he or Basso were hoping for.

"We're disappointed by the decision. [The judge] obviously didn't follow our arguments as she decided against my client," said Giacomantonio.

"I think it's been stressful. It's taken a long time, it's been hard on him. I think he felt and continues to feel like he was doing his best and put in a tough situation that night. But we respect the court's ruling and we'll prepare for sentencing."

Basso is not in custody and will be sentenced in October.

Giacomantonio said it's too early to say whether there will be an appeal.

Police Action investigation to resume

Halifax Regional Police said they will resume a Police Act investigation once the court matter is complete. Their investigation was paused during Basso's trial. 

"The conviction of one of our officers for a criminal offence is troubling," police spokesperson Const. John MacLeod said in a statement. "We recognize that police officers are expected to be above reproach at all times."

Basso was previously accused of stealing a substance known as cut, which is used to dilute drugs, from a police evidence locker in 2015.

The Crown withdrew three charges — theft, breach of trust and obstruction of justice — in 2017 due to delays in the prosecution. 

With files from Elizabeth Chiu