Nova Scotia

Halifax police officer appeals demotion for excessive force

A Halifax police officer is appealing his demotion after a police complaints commission found he used excessive force during an arrest last year.

'We feel he used force when he didn't have to do so, and that's unacceptable,' says police lawyer

A Halifax police officer is appealing his demotion over his use of force during an arrest a year ago. 0:42

A Halifax police officer is appealing a demotion after a police complaints commission found he used an excessive amount of force during an arrest a year ago.

Const. Matthew MacGillivray used excessive force, was discourteous and acted discreditably when arresting a P.E.I. couple driving to a medical appointment, the Halifax Regional Police complaints commission found.

After that January 2016 hearing, MacGillivray was demoted from a rank of sergeant to constable.

Matthew MacGillivray arrests Angela Acorn last September. A police complaints commission found the police officer used excessive force. He is now appealing his demotion from sergeant to constable. (Graham Labonte)

At a hearing before the province's police review board on Monday, his lawyer argued MacGillivray should have his rank of sergeant reinstated, which the police force opposed.

"We feel he used force when he didn't have to do so, and that's unacceptable," Halifax Regional Police lawyer Katherine Salsman told court.

Couple sues officer

The appeal hearing comes just over a week after a civil lawsuit was filed based on the same arrest. The arrested couple, Angela Acorn and Graham Labonte, makes dozens of allegations in the suit, including negligence and poor oversight on the part of the police force and municipality.

"He was on a power trip, a spoiled brat, a temper tantrum," husband Labonte testified at the appeal hearing Monday.

"I could use all sorts of words to describe his behaviour."

Driving to pain management appointment

Acorn and Labonte were driving from their home in Belle River, P.E.I., to a pain management appointment in Fall River, N.S., when they saw a police car driving erratically on Sept. 9, 2015, court heard.

MacGillivray was behind the wheel, swerving and crossing lanes without signalling, so the couple followed him to make sure he was OK, Acorn testified.

When the officer's driving returned to normal, Labonte passed him. From the passenger seat, Acorn signalled to the officer, asking if he was all right, thinking he was in distress, documents say.

Matthew MacGillivray was promoted to sergeant in June 2015, according to a news release on Halifax's website. (Halifax Regional Municipality)

'Pulled over by a hostile cop'

MacGillivray then turned on his sirens and pulled the couple over on Highway 102 near Lower Sackville.

Acorn testified she left the car to talk to the officer, who was not approaching her car window as she expected he would.

A confrontation ensued, with the officer arresting and handcuffing her for disobeying a police officer.

Her husband testified MacGillivray had his wife's arms behind her "like she was a pretzel," and the officer was "dragging her all over."

At some point, Labonte called 911.

"We're being pulled over by a hostile cop," he said, as was heard on the tape played for court.

Photos of bruising

Labonte also filmed part of the arrest on his iPhone, during which the officer can be seen yelling and pointing at him while holding her arms behind her back.

Acorn alleges she suffered injuries, and provided photos of bruising to court.

A photo in evidence of Angela Acorn's arm after the arrest. (Nova Scotia Supreme Court)

According to the statement of claim from their lawsuit, the couple alleges MacGillivray removed his nametag and threw it on the ground.

Then the officer unbuttoned the holster of his firearm, at which point the husband stopped recording, the document says.

Couple ticketed

MacGillivray arrested Labonte as well. Acorn and Labonte were both ticketed with disobeying a peace officer. Labonte was issued a speeding ticket, which court heard was for going 10 km/h over the speed limit.

MacGillivray's lawyer, Brian Bailey, suggested at the hearing that Acorn exited her car to argue with the officer because she was impatient to reach her appointment. That's also the reason the lawyer suggested they were speeding.

A photo of Angela Acorn taken at her home in P.E.I. after her arrest near Halifax, which was submitted as evidence. (Nova Scotia Supreme Court)

Halifax Regional Police declined to provide to CBC News a copy of the disciplinary decision against MacGillivray, saying in an email that it is a personnel matter. The decision would contain details of the force's investigation into and ruling on the officer's behaviour.

The hearing is scheduled to continue through to Friday.

Read the civil suit filed against the officer, the Halifax police force and the municipality:

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With files from Jack Julian and Brett Ruskin