Thunder Bay

Police break First Nations woman's shoulder, charge her with assault

A woman from Mishkeegogamang First Nation, north of Thunder Bay, Ont., has been found not guilty of assaulting police in an altercation that resulted in her shoulder and ribs being broken.

'They have this in-your face approach to policing,' Mishkeegogamang band councillor says

A judge says police injured a 'frail' First Nations woman in the course of her arrest on an unfounded charge. (CBC)

A woman from Mishkeegogamang First Nation, north of Thunder Bay, Ont., has been found not guilty of assaulting police in an altercation that resulted in her shoulder and ribs being broken.

Bonnie Muckuck was charged with assaulting her partner and then assaulting an Ontario Provincial Police officer during her arrest outside Casual's Convenience Store in Pickle Lake, Ont., on October 16, 2013.

She was found not guilty on both charges, in a decision released last week by Justice Peter Bishop. He also ruled the injuries to Muckuck were caused by police at the time of her arrest.

"There is no other logical explanation for the causation of those injuries," Bishop wrote in his decision.

Officer says he was kicked in the groin

The officers involved in the arrest argued they were not the cause of Muckuck's broken shoulder and ribs.  Const. Michael Vezina alleged that he was, in fact, the victim of an assault by Muckuck.

Vezina told the court that Muckuck resisted arrest, and when he was holding her at arm's length in front of the police car, she kicked him in the groin.

In his testimony Vezina said Muckuck screamed and kicked at the roof of the police cruiser once she was inside, actions he said he believed were inconsistent with someone being in pain.

Court documents show when Muckuck arrived at the police station she complained that she was in pain and had been hurt in the course of her arrest.  Const. Brent Woolgar told her that she must have hurt herself earlier.

Paramedics were called and Muckuck was taken to hospital in Sioux Lookout, Ont. by ambulance where, according to court documents, doctors found her shoulder was broken, her arm was dislocated and her ribs were fractured.

Judge describes Muckuck as 'frail, bird-like' 

"If the arrest happened the way Const. Vezina states, there would not be such serious injuries to her, namely a broken arm and broken ribs," Bishop wrote in his ruling. "Ms. Muckuck appeared as frail, almost bird-like when presenting her evidence in court."

As for Muckuck's screaming in the back of the police cruiser, Bishop said that was "consistent with being in extreme pain, being handcuffed to the rear and having her arm forcibly pushed up to affix handcuffs."

A band councillor for Mishkeegogamang First Nation, located 20 kilometres south of Pickle Lake, Ont. said he welcomes the not guilty decision in the case.

"Sometimes I believe the police are overly aggressive," Tom Wassaykeesic said. "They have this in-your-face approach to policing."

The police have a difficult job, Wasaykeesic noted, but said many First Nations members get wrongly accused of assaulting officers. 

'Unneccesary' amount of force

"There are people who do resist [arrest] but in Ms. Muckuck's case, the amount of force was unnecessary for somebody that size," he said, adding that Muckuck is in her late 50s and is both short and slim.

Justice Bishop also found the initial charge that brought Muckuck to the attention of police to be unfounded. Testimony in the case shows it's unclear whether Muckcuck was ever told the reason for her contact with police.

A clerk at a local store had called police when she said she saw Muckuck assaulting her long-time partner, Sanderson Loon, in the store. 

Loon has since died of causes unrelated to the incident and "the court cannot find beyond a reasonable doubt that the altercation was anything more than consensual rough-housing," Bishop ruled.

The pair were at a picnic table outside the store "creating no further difficulties", Bishop wrote. "Very little, investigation, if any, was done by Const. Vezina."

No charges against officers

The province's police watchdog conducted an investigation into the conduct of officers in this case. The Special Investigations Unit concluded in July 2014 that no criminal charges are warranted against the officers involved.

Wassaykeesic said Muckuck may pursue a civil suit against police.

He said he admires Muckuck's courage in confronting police for their actions and hopes it inspires other people in the community to do the same.