Saskatoon

Lawsuit accuses Saskatoon police officer of sexual assault, abuse of power

A lawsuit filed against a Saskatoon police officer claims he sexually assaulted and abused his power over a victim of crime in February of 2009. 

Angela Skjonsby's lawsuit alleges Patrick Skinnider manipulated and assaulted her in 2009

Angela Skjonsby alleges a Saskatoon police officer sexually assaulted her in 2009, and abused his power by manipulating her. (Morgan Modjeski/CBC )

A lawsuit filed against a Saskatoon police officer claims he sexually assaulted and abused his power over a victim of crime in February of 2009. 

The lawsuit was filed by Community Legal Assistance Services for Saskatoon's Inner City Inc. on behalf of the complainant, Angela Skjonsby. 

While CBC does not usually name alleged victims of sexual assault, Skjonsby said she wants her story and her experiences to be made public and agreed to be named.

She says at the time of the alleged assault, she was in an abusive marriage, and was scared and recovering from a physical confrontation with her now ex-husband. Roughly two weeks after what's described in the suit as a "serious domestic violence incident," she reported the incident to Saskatoon police.

That call would shape her life for the next decade, she alleges. In a lawsuit filed with Saskatchewan provincial court's small claims court last October, she claims the officer who responded, Const. Patrick Skinnider, would later sexually assault her and use his power as a police officer to manipulate and coerce her into an intimate relationship.  

The lawsuit alleges that while responding to her February 2009 call, Skinnider "made advances to Ms. Skjonsby and initiated non-consensual physical contact," which included kissing her.

Skinnider then asked her if he could return to her apartment following his shift, but she told him that was not a good idea, the lawsuit says. The next day however, he showed up at the apartment, and when Skjonsby answered the door, Skinnider immediately started to kiss her without consent, according to the suit.

He's then alleged to have pushed Skjonsby into the bedroom and forcibly initiated penetrative sexual intercourse with her without her consent, despite the fact she verbally and physically resisted the sexual advance, telling him she was on her period.

"Mr. Skinnider did not wear a condom during the assault. Mr. Skinnider left the next morning," the statement of claim alleges.

Relationship based on manipulation: suit

The next morning, Skinnider sent Skjonsby an email apologizing for assaulting her, the lawsuit alleges, saying "something to the effect of 'your beauty made me do it.'"

A short time later, he attended her apartment and asked for forgiveness, according to the suit. At the time, along with experiencing trauma in her past, Skjonsby was in a "highly vulnerable state," as she had recently left a violent relationship where she was "repeatedly physically and psychologically abused," the statement of claim says.

Due to her distressed state, Skjonsby accepted Skinnider's apology and started a relationship with him, the statement of claim says, which was "based in part on Mr. Skinnider's emotional and psychological manipulation as a result of her vulnerable emotional state." 

Then in May of 2009, she filed a complaint with the Saskatoon Police Services professional standards division in relation to his conduct, the lawsuit says. She did not tell Skinnider about the complaint. Following the complaint, it's alleged Skinnider attended her apartment a second time, forcing his way in and forcibly initiating sex for a second time. 

The statement of claim says at no time did Skjonsby consent to the sex, and due to her past life experiences and her past experiences with Skinnider, she was "afraid for her life and was unable to communicate the lack of consent."

Every single time I'd see a cop car, my anxiety would just skyrocket.​​​​​- Angela Skjonsby

Skjonsby's suit says she is seeking general damages, as well as aggravated and punitive damages, not exceeding the small claims limit of $30,000. 

The allegations in the statement of claim have not been proven in court.

As of Jan. 22, 2021, a statement of defence has not been filed.

CBC has made numerous attempts to contact Patrick Skinnider for a response to the allegations outlined in the statement of claim, but a response was not received. These attempts included text messages, phone calls and attempts to reach Skinnider through family.

"The SPS is unable to provide any comment regarding this litigation as it is currently before the courts," Saskatoon police said in an emailed statment on CBC on Friday.

"This complaint was investigated when it was brought to the SPS's attention in 2009. No criminal charges were recommended by the Crown and the matter was addressed by the SPS pursuant to the legislated disciplinary process."

'For years, it's scared me'

Now, Skjonsby says she suffers a wide range of psychological and emotional injuries including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and panic attacks. In an interview with CBC, she says every aspect of her life has been affected by the alleged attack. 

"Every single time I'd see a cop car, my anxiety would just skyrocket," she said, saying she suffered severe nightmares connected to the alleged assault.

"For years, it's scared me," she said.

Skjonsby said she feels that because of her vulnerable state, Skinnider saw her as an "easy target."

Her statement of claim alleges he "abused his power as a police officer to coerce Ms. Skjonsby into one or more sexual encounters."

"My biggest goal is to get justice and have him be held accountable for his actions," said Skjonsby.

"He raped me. I was on my period. I said no many times. He psychologically abused me at my most vulnerable time and he never should have used me," she said.

"For someone to use somebody in that position is extremely disgusting." 

In 2009, Skinnider was criminally investigated as a result of an initial complaint filed by Skjonsby related to the alleged assault, according to emails reviewed by CBC. However, he was never charged criminally.

Officer internally sanctioned in 2009

In early 2020, Skjonsby started making calls for Skinnider to be reinvestigated after a video, which was viewed by more than 50,000 people, surfaced online that featured an off-duty Saskatoon police officer yelling at a child.

The Saskatoon Police Service never confirmed Skinnider was the officer in the video, but CBC has learned that he is the subject of two internal investigations in connection with that incident. RCMP also investigated the matter, but concluded no charges would be laid.

In an email sent to Skjonsby in early 2020, which she shared with CBC, Det. Sgt. Pat Rathwell with the Saskatoon Police Service's professional standards unit said that Skinnider was found guilty of discreditable conduct following Skjonsby's 2009 complaint, which resulted in "several serious sanctions" against him.

Rathwell said in the email the investigation, conducted at the time by Det. Sgt. Merv Hepp, was thorough. He noted it was reviewed again in May 2019, with newly appointed Saskatoon Police Chief Troy Cooper being briefed on the investigation.

"I fully understand the outcome was not what you wanted and hoped for, but the investigation was done thoroughly and objectively," Rathwell said in the email. "I'm not sure what else to tell you. The matter will not be re-investigated."

Skjonsby says she filed the lawsuit because she wants to see Patrick Skinnider held accountable for his alleged actions. (Morgan Modjeski/CBC)

Emails reviewed by CBC that were part of that investigation, released to Skjonsby through a Freedom of Information and Privacy Act request, detail a turbulent relationship that spanned over three months and consisted of romantic exchanges, anger over a cancelled date and eventually a breakup between the two. 

In one of the emails, Skinnider is said to have used the phone number of a woman who was supposed to be a witness in the case for personal reasons. When Skjonsby told him she was going to call his workplace to report the unprofessionalism, Skinnider told her it could directly affect the case against her then-estranged husband. 

"Keep in mind that it would have a negative kickback for you as well as for me," Skinnider wrote in an email to Skjonsby on March 31, 2009.

"I would lose my job, all charges against your ex would be reversed, and your ex would have the opportunity to charge you, which I would guess that he would jump at the chance, as well as me." 

It continues: "I would be terminated (which I know you don't care), but I hope you find it more importantly to keep charges against your ex and not try to make new ones against me. I am sorry and I mean no harm. Your ex meant harm and deserves what he got. I wouldn't, and neither would you if he charged you which I bet he would." 

'Process for police discipline': chief

Clive Weighill, who was the chief of the Saskatoon Police Service at the time of the alleged assault, said he could not comment on the matter, as he no longer speaks for the Saskatoon police past or present.

In February 2020, when the video of the officer yelling at a child became public, CBC requested an interview with Chief Cooper about past allegations of sexual assault against the officer involved. A statement was provided instead.

"The discipline from 11 years ago was addressed at the time so there will be no further comment on it, aside from the fact that we wish to reassure the public that we have a very structured process in place for monitoring performance and behaviour over time," Cooper said in the statement.

"Our Service cares about our members and their families and prioritizes their health and well-being for our members and their families."

In a statement, Saskatoon police Chief Troy Cooper said he wants to reassure the public that the service has a structured process in place to ensure discipline for officers who 'are not performing in ways that are up to our standards.' (Don Somers/CBC)

In a June 18, 2020 interview with CBC set up through the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners, Chief Cooper was asked if the pattern of discipline involving Skinnider was concerning. Cooper said at the time, he could not comment on open investigations, but said the service takes these matters seriously.

"Anytime an officer does something that impacts our reputation in the community, it's of course a concern, and whenever there is an officer who has had a pattern of discipline, that of course is a concern as well," he said. 

"We do have processes in place here to make sure that our officers are supported if we feel that there's an issue that we could help address, and we certainly have a process for police discipline in the province that we use when officers are not performing in ways that are up to our standards." 

When asked about the possibility of reopening the 2009 investigation into Skinnider's alleged conduct, Cooper said he'd have to review the file again to ensure he knew the exact details of the investigation.

"Generally speaking, we use a progressive discipline in our service, like every other employee, so if there is a pattern of behaviour that seems to be repeated, we take that into account when we do our followup investigations."

Trust, authority can be used to manipulate: advocate

The executive director of the Saskatoon Sexual Assault and Information Centre said she could not comment on a specific case. Generally, though, it's not uncommon for people to use positions of power to manipulate people, Faye Davis says.

"Perpetrators often misuse trust and/or authority to manipulate coerce survivors into acts to which they did not consent," Davis said in a statement. 

"The source of this authority can be obtained from any position in which perpetrators have the ability to impact the well-being of another such as a landlord, supervisor in a workplace, police officer, doctors, teachers, counsellors, to name a few examples." 

She notes that during the #MeToo movement, we saw how the rich and powerful often wield that power to sexually victimize a "multitude of individuals."

"As a society we need to ensure that professions and regulating agencies have mechanism[s] that are trauma-informed and accessible to survivors so that perpetrators can be identified," she said in the statement.

"We need to ensure that survivors have access to supports and counselling services they require. In the long run as a society we need to address the inequality that exists in our societies so that the powerful can no longer prey on those who are made vulnerable by our failure to support them." 

Court appearance this week

Tom Baldry, a supervising lawyer with Community Legal Assistance for Saskatoon Inner City Inc., is representing Skjonsby in her lawsuit against Skinnider.

The matter is set for a first court appearance on Jan. 25 via teleconference, at which time parties involved will be able to submit information and relevant documents, ask questions of the judge about the process, and determine if there's any possibility of reaching a resolution on the matter before proceeding.

Skjonsby says support from her family is what's enabled her to find the strength to come forward. She hopes by telling her story, she can give others the courage to share their accounts.

When asked if she had a message for Chief Cooper, she's clear about what she wants to see for Skinnider.

"It would be: 'Fire him.' Do what needs to be done," she said. "Stand up for the victims." 

The Saskatoon Police Association, which represents police officers in the city, said on Friday it has no comment on the matter at this time.

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