A Manitoba judge says the charter rights of an Alberta man were violated when an RCMP officer held his knee against the man’s neck during an arrest in Winnipeg more than two years ago.
In provincial court on Friday, Judge Dave Mann gave 42-year-old Nathan Lasuik a conditional discharge for assaulting two police officers and an unnamed man. The sentencing comes more than two years after Lasuik’s arrest outside Winnipeg’s James Richardson International Airport on Aug. 1, 2019.
A five-minute cell phone video captured by Lasuik’s father on the night of the arrest was played in court during the trial. The video shows an RCMP officer with his knee on the neck of Lasuik, who could be heard screaming he can’t breathe.
Court previously heard RCMP officers were responding to a report of an assault involving an intoxicated man.
Mounties said responding officers had first tried to de-escalate the situation without using force but said Lasuik was combative and hit a police officer in the face. He was arrested and put in handcuffs, though RCMP said Lasuik kicked an officer in the groin, which is when he was taken to the ground and the officer put his knee on his neck.
Const. Eric Gerein, one of the responding officers, had previously testified that Lasuik “sucker punched” him in the lip.
JUDGE ACCEPTS EXPERT OPINION WHO SAID USE OF FORCE WAS UNNECESSARY
During the trial, court heard testimony from Sgt. Kelly Keith, a veteran police officer of 33 years and a use of force instructor, who said the officer’s use of force during the arrest was unnecessary.
“I accept (Keith’s) opinion,” Mann said while delivering his decision on Friday. “His opinion that even if Mr. Lasuik still had the intent, he had very little ability or means to assault the officers or anyone else once he was in the prone position on the ground with his hands handcuffed underneath him.”
Lasuik had argued his Charter rights were breached due to the use of excessive force during his arrest.
“In watching the video, I find that (Const. Gerein) did have several minutes when his knee was on his neck and when Mr. Lasuik was saying he couldn’t breathe where he could have moved his knee to a safer location,” Mann said.
The judge pointed out that Gerein had testified he felt that if Lasuik was talking then he was breathing.
During his decision, the judge also said Gerein made comments to Lasuik while on the ground including, “You’ve opened your mouth one too many times” and “You’re a tough guy, aren’t you?”
“I am mindful though that the police officers are human beings. It would be unrealistic to think they would not get frustrated or upset with the suspect when they are kicked in the groin for example, which had happened shortly before these comments were made. Almost anyone would be angry or annoyed,” Mann said.
“However I do consider them in the overall assessment in light of what was happening at the moment, in concluding that Mr. Lasuik’s Section 7 rights were violated when he was unnecessarily left in a vulnerable and unsafe situation for a number of minutes.”
CONDITIONAL DISCHARGE, ONE YEAR PROBATION FOR ALBERTA MAN
Mann said while Lasuik’s Charter rights were breached, he would not issue the stay of charges that Lasuik’s lawyer had asked for.
Instead, Lasuik was given a conditional discharge with 12 months of supervised probation. Among the conditions, Mann said Lasuik must complete any counselling as directed by probation services and will need to complete 40 hours of community service work.
Mann said there are several mitigating factors in Lasuik’s case, including he has no previous criminal record and he appears to have a level of remorse. Mann also pointed out Lasuik has taken some steps, including taking medication, to avoid this from happening again.
During the sentencing, Lasuik apologized to the court and to the RCMP officers who had been involved in the arrest.
-with files from CTV’s Josh Crabb
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