Nova Scotia

Demoted police officer Matthew MacGillivray was right to be fearful: expert

A use-of-force expert said demoted police officer Matthew MacGillivray was correct to unhood his gun during the arrest of a P.E.I. couple at a traffic stop last year.

Const. MacGillivray demoted for excessive use of force after traffic stop of P.E.I. couple

Use-of-force expert Kelly Keith testified that Const. Matthew MacGillivray used reasonable actions during the arrest of a couple at a traffic stop last year. (Jack Julian/CBC)

A use-of-force expert, called by the lawyer for a demoted Halifax police officer, testified Const. Matthew MacGillivray was justified in his actions during the arrest of a Prince Edward Island couple at a traffic stop last year.

MacGillivray was demoted from sergeant to constable after his Halifax Regional Police superiors found he used unreasonable force during a heated confrontation with the man and woman who were in the city to attend a medical appointment.

Once Angela Acorn of Belle River, P.E.I., got out of her vehicle, there was no time to try to de-escalate the situation with words, said Kelly Keith of Winnipeg, who has an extensive resume of expert testimony in Canada. He is also experienced in training police officers in both Canada and the United States.

Today was the fourth and final day of disciplinary review in Halifax. MacGillivray is appealing his demotion.

Unhooding gun was correct

MacGillivray was in a risk position, boxed in at roadside between a guardrail and fast-moving traffic on Highway 102, Keith said.

MacGillivray was correct to unhood the holster of his sidearm after Graham Labonte, Acorn's husband, also left their car because of the threat he posed, he told the board.

The officer testified Wednesday he thought Labonte might attack him, and was afraid for his own life. Labonte has testified he weighed about 270 pounds at the time of the incident, roughly 100 pounds more than MacGillivray.

A firearm would have helped even the odds in a potential fight, Keith said.

'His actions are reasonable'

Keith also noted touching the gun appears to have checked Labonte's advance.

Keith says MacGillivray followed the best course of action available to him at the time.

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

"I believe his actions are reasonable.  Absolutely reasonable," Keith said.

Keith's assessment of MacGillivray's actions relied heavily on the officer's own description of his behaviour.

Officer was agitated, hostile

Acorn and Labonte paint a different picture, describing an officer who was driving erratically before their encounter and was agitated, hostile and rude throughout.

Police Review Board chair Jean McKenna says it's not unusual to hear conflicting versions of events.

"When it actually comes to hearing, usually there's a dispute on the facts, sure, quite often. We don't always have video."

Graham Labonte shot a short cellphone video of MacGillivray while he was restraining Acorn.

Husband shot short video

There's been disagreements about what's being said on that video and in the background of a 911 call Labonte made at the scene.  

"Again I don't like to talk about the facts. But if we say we don't know what's being said, then we don't know what's being said," McKenna said.

Const. Matthew MacGillivray is appealing his demotion from sergeant before the province's police review board. (Jack Julian/CBC)

The video shows MacGillivray shouting at Labonte that he's under arrest while Acorn screams in protest.

Keith described MacGillivray's tone in the video as "businesslike."

Discipline or reinstatement

The board expects to render a decision in the case in roughly a month.

​McKenna says if the board finds discipline was not appropriate in the case, MacGillivray could be immediately reinstated with a possibility of back pay.

Otherwise, there's a second hearing.

"If we do find there are disciplinary defaults, then they have to come back and argue what the penalty should be," she said.