Saskatoon

Judge decries any 'rush to judgment' on fired Saskatoon cop 'in or out of a courtroom'

Moments before finding fired Saskatoon cop Jarett Gelowitz not-guilty of on-duty assault, Justice Richard Danyliuk spoke about the importance of not rushing to conclusions.

Justice Richard Danyliuk found Jarett Gelowitz not-guilty of on-duty assault

Former Saskatoon constable Jarett Gelowitz, far left, left the courthouse with his family Wednesday. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

The Saskatchewan judge who found former Saskatoon cop Jarett Gelowitz not-guilty of on-duty assault during a tense 2016 arrest ended his decision this week by denouncing any "rush to judgment" about Gelowitz — "in or out of a courtroom."

"Only if the Crown could meet its onus of proof of the alleged crime beyond a reasonable doubt could I find [Gelowitz] — indeed, any accused person — guilty," Court of Queen's Bench Justice Richard Danyliuk said in summarizing his 50-plus-page decision Wednesday morning. 

"To think otherwise, to rush to judgment and act before any evidence is heard and before facts are determined, to come to believe one side or the other before that evidence is tested in court; to do any of that will frequently result in erroneous conclusions and in manifest injustice, whether that rushed judgment is made in or out of a courtroom."

Danyliuk's words echoed those previously used by the Saskatoon Police Association in criticizing the Saskatoon Police Service for firing Gelowitz before either his assault charge was tested in court or an upcoming police hearing addressed three internal complaints made against Gelowitz before his firing. 

"It was a rush to judgment," Dean Pringle, the association's president, told CBC News in an interview two weeks ago.

In a statement Wednesday, the police service said Gelowitz' firing was not based on his trial but rather on the internal complaints.

A Police Act hearing to address those complaints is scheduled for Sept. 16.

The judge's decision 

Justice Danyliuk heard evidence in Gelowitz's judge-only trial this past May. Gelowitz was accused of assault for an incident in which Gelowitz and three other officers collectively yanked Kehler Bear out of a car window while trying to make an arrest. 

Bear had led police on a lengthy high-speed chase and, once stopped, refused orders to surrender and get out of the car, according to Danyliuk's summary of the trial evidence. 

Officers finally took Bear into custody shortly after Gelowitz kneed Bear in the head (after delivering some punches and kicks). 

"Policing is difficult, dangerous work," read the first line of Danyliuk's decision, which went on to say, "By definition this was a dangerous situation."

That Gelowitz, the most senior cop on the scene, struck Bear was not at issue. Rather, the trial hinged on whether Gelowitz applied excessive force, given the circumstances.

Witness credibility

Danyliuk said he ultimately based his decision primarily on the testimony of other officers and use-of-force expert Joel Johnston, plus dash-cam footage of the altercation.

Danyliuk pointed to Johnston's testimony that knee strikes are a commonly-taught method of subduing a suspect and that Bear was "highly actively resistant."

"If one watches the video, one can see Bear struggling every second until [Gelowitz] delivered his knee strike," Danyliuk said.

Danyliuk added that he did not find either Gelowitz or Bear's testimonies entirely credible, especially Bear's, which he called inconsistent.

As for Gelowitz, Danyliuk pointed to the fact that he was the only witness to insist that Bear lit a cigarette before officers extracted him from the car.

Danyliuk also disagreed with Crown lawyer Jennifer Schmidt's criticism of Gelowitz's actions during the arrest.

The judge said he disapproved of some "inappropriate commentary" that some people in the gallery made toward Crown lawyer Jennifer Schmidt and praised her for her own conduct during Gelowitz' trial. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

"In the midst of this highly dangerous and stressful situation, the Crown appears to argue [that Gelowitz] should have paused, looked around, listened and ceased in his efforts to subdue an unruly suspect while doing this," Danyliuk said.

"With respect, in this type of situation, that strikes me as a good way for an officer to get himself or someone else hurt or killed."   

'Inappropriate commentary' from gallery

Danyliuk praised both Schmidt and defence lawyer Brad Mitchell for their trial conduct in spite of some distractions.   

"During the trial, Crown counsel, who was assigned to this case and did not seek it out but was merely doing her duty, had to withstand some unfortunate or inappropriate commentary from some people from the gallery," Danyliuk said Wednesday as a large gathering of Gelowitz's friends and family awaited his decision. 

His caution was immediately disregarded following Danyliuk's declaration of Gelowitz's innocence.

Immediately after Danyliuk exited the courthouse and court was adjourned, Gelowitz's supporters quickly rose to their feet and burst into applause for 11 seconds. 

"Finally. It's over!" exclaimed one woman.

"A rush to judgment? Yes, yes," said another.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Ottawa, originally from Cornwall, Ont.

Story tips? Email me at guy.quenneville@cbc.ca or DM me @gqinott on Twitter.

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