Trial underway for Sask. Indigenous woman violently arrested after alleged shoplifting
Woman's lawyer calls for all charges to be dropped because of 'excessive and gratuitous' force
An Indigenous woman thrown to the pavement, handcuffed and pinned for nearly 10 minutes by a Saskatoon grocery store security guard is on trial, accused of shoplifting a roast and some cheese.
A video of the April 14, 2021, arrest, posted by an observer, prompted widespread outrage from Indigenous leaders and others.
Chris Murphy, lawyer for the accused Annette Custer, has applied to have the theft and assault charges thrown out on the grounds of "excessive and gratuitous" violence applied during her arrest, as well as numerous violations of her rights.
Judge Doug Agnew ruled in Saskatoon provincial court Thursday that all trial evidence will be heard first, followed by the application for a stay of charges.
Security guard Cameron McMillan was the first witness called. McMillan's body camera video was played in court.
In the video, McMillan approaches Custer in the parking lot of the FreshCo grocery store on 33rd Street in Saskatoon.
Video of Custer's arrest (WARNING: may be disturbing to some viewers):
McMillan, who is more than six feet tall and was wearing a black hoodie, tells her to come with him. When she says no, he grabs her, throws her to the ground and, while she is lying face-down on the pavement, attempts to handcuff her.
It is only after this point, once an onlooker demands to know who he is, that McMillan identifies himself as "security."
Custer gets to her feet, punches McMillan in the face and gets to her vehicle. McMillan pins her inside with his knee and elbow, handcuffs her and takes her keys. She remains pinned, screaming, for several minutes until police arrive.
Onlookers tell McMillan to get off of Custer. He declines.
"Anyone who touches me gets assault charges, so get the f--k away from me," he says in the video.
McMillan also yells that Custer is trying to stab him with the keys.
"You're a liar!" Custer screams and again pleads for help.
Acted within bounds of Criminal Code: guard
Under cross-examination by Murphy Thursday, McMillan admitted Custer never tried to stab him.
Custer sobbed loudly as the video played in court. Several members of the gallery shifted in their seats or shook their heads.
"You've got her handcuffed, you've got her [car] keys. You're pinning her with all of your body weight for several minutes. You don't think that's excessive?" Murphy asked.
"I don't think so," McMillan replied.
Murphy asked McMillan if he was familiar with the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which documented the high levels of violence perpetrated against Indigenous women.
McMillan said he was familiar with it, but didn't consider how his actions, or failure to immediately identify himself, would be perceived by an Indigenous woman.
"My priority is to act within the bounds of the Criminal Code, and that's what I did," McMillan replied.
The first police officer on the scene also testified. Murphy asked why Custer was not immediately informed of her rights, including the right to call a lawyer. The officer said she appeared emotional and that they waited until the situation had calmed down.
'A lot of violence,' Custer testifies
Custer testified Thursday afternoon. She was asked to describe in detail how violent trauma she suffered at the hands of a former partner, as well as the death of an infant son, left her physically and emotionally damaged and unable to work.
She said she took the roast and other items because her social assistance totals left her with little money to feed her family or buy gas to drive her child to school.
When McMillan approached her, she said he didn't identify himself until after he had forced her to the ground.
"I didn't know who he was. It was just a guy telling me to come with him," she said.
"Then he put his hands on me. Then a lot of violence, a lot of unnecessary force. It felt like he was pushing my face to the ground."
She said she eventually "gave up" once he was kneeling on her in the vehicle.
"He doesn't stop. He continues [with his leg] between my legs. It was violating. I was wearing a skirt. His weight, his breath," she said.
She said it took months to regain feeling in one hand, and she suffered other injuries.
The evidence portion of the trial has concluded.The application for a stay of charges will be heard in August, followed by a ruling by Agnew.