Saskatoon

'It was simply reactive': Former Saskatoon police officer testifies in his own defence

Former Saskatoon police officer Jarett Gelowitz says he didn't "have the luxury of time" to do a lengthy evaluation before he advanced on suspect Kehler Bear.

Jarett Gelowitz is charged with assault following a 2016 arrest

Fired Saskatoon police officer Jarett Gelowitz (left) appears to knee suspect Kehler Bear in the head after another officer yells "stop" during a 2016 arrest. Gelowitz testified in his own defence at his trial this week for assault. (Supplied by Saskatoon Court of Queen's Bench)

Former Saskatoon police officer Jarett Gelowitz says he didn't "have the luxury of time" to do a lengthy evaluation before he advanced on suspect Kehler Bear.

"This is happening in a matter of seconds. It was simply reactive," Gelowitz testified Wednesday at Saskatoon's Court of Queen's Bench.

Gelowitz is charged with assaulting Bear during an arrest in December 2016. He also stands charged with aggravated assault in another matter that has not yet been resolved. He was fired last year from the Saskatoon Police Service.

On Wednesday in court, Gelowitz's lawyer asked him to recount his thoughts and actions from that night.

Suspect Kehler Bear drove a stolen SUV (right) at speeds of up to 160 kilometres per hour before he was arrested. Former Saskatoon police officer Jarett Gelowitz is on trial this week for assault stemming from the incident. (Supplied by Saskatoon Court of Queen's Bench)

Gelowitz and his police dog were investigating an armed robbery when they got a call about a stolen vehicle in the same area. He joined others in a chase that lasted more than 10 minutes and reached speeds of 160 kilometres per hour.

Gelowitz said most chases end quickly. Police either catch the suspect or the supervisor calls off the chase due to public safety concerns. He said he isn't sure why their supervisor allowed it to continue.

The vehicle came to a stop after having its tires punctured by stop sticks. Gelowitz joined other officers on the scene. He said the situation was urgent.

He said the driver and passenger might have been armed (they were not) or might have tried to use the SUV as a weapon to run them over. After officers smashed out the windows with batons, Gelowitz noticed other officers standing by. He felt he had to do something, he said.

"I didn't see anybody doing anything, so I decided to approach the vehicle," he testified.

"It was me against these two suspects."

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Video showing a man who was allegedly assaulted after a lengthy police chase in Saskatoon was shown in Saskatoon QB court on Monday.

Gelowitz said he grabbed Bear, who was seated in the driver's seat, by the wrists then punched him in the face twice.

"My goal was to get the driver under control as quickly as possible," he said.

He tried to kick Bear but missed, he said. He then tried to strike Bear with his knee, he said, but hit the door instead.

Other officers then join in pulling Bear out by the wrists, hair, pants and shirt. Gelowitz said he delivered a knee strike to Bear and connected. Bear's body "caved" and they put him on the ground.

In a video played earlier this week, Gelowitz appears to deliver the final knee after another officer yells "stop." Gelowitz testified he didn't hear them say anything at that point.

Once Bear was on the ground, face down, several officers were restraining him. Gelowitz testified that Bear was still resisting, so he punched him in the back so another officer could place Bear in handcuffs.

Under cross-examination, the Crown lawyer asked Bear about his training. She said they are trained to "assess, plan and react .. .you don't just rush in and do something."

Gelowitz repeated that he felt the situation was urgent.

"If you don't have the luxury of time...you have to make a decision...my options were limited," he said.

During the cross-examination, several of Gelowitz's supporters sighed and gasped loudly, shaking their heads at times. Justice Richard Danyliuk paused the proceedings to remind the gallery disturbances and outbursts won't be tolerated. He said those who can't control themselves should please leave.

One more witness is scheduled to testify Thursday by video, with closing arguments to follow.

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