Court releases video of assault that led to charges against RCMP officers

Arabnews24.ca:Wednesday 28 September 2022 12:15 PM: WARNING: The video discussed in this story is violent.

A surveillance video that was at the heart of a criminal case against two Yellowknife RCMP officers has been released to CBC News and experts are divided on whether the force the officers used was necessary. 

On Sept. 8, after a months-long legal proceeding, Territorial Court Judge Bernadette Schmaltz ruled that the news organization could publish the video.

The video was used as evidence in the assault trial of Const. Francessca Bechard and Cpl. Jason Archer, and played in open court several times. The charges against both officers were stayed two days into their trial in May. 

A charge being stayed means the legal proceedings are paused either temporarily or indefinitely without any finding of innocence or guilt. In the vast majority of cases, stayed charges result in no further action.

Immediately following the trial, CBC News was able to view the video at the Yellowknife courthouse but was not allowed to make a copy or publish it. 

WATCH: RCMP surveillance video shows officer punching prisoner. Warning: This video is violent.

RCMP surveillance video from October 2020

20 hours ago

Duration 1:00

Surveillance video shows RCMP officers processing prisoner Tracella Romie at the Yellowknife detachment in October 2020. The video led to assault charges against two of the officers, but the charges were stayed two days into their trial in May.

The case stemmed from the use of force against prisoner Tracella Romie in 2020 at the Yellowknife detachment. Romie has supported CBC's application to obtain and share the video. 

A punch to the face

Romie, 26, was arrested by two other officers at the Yellowknife liquor store in October 2020. She was intoxicated inside the store, refusing to leave and assaulting staff.

When the arresting officers arrived at the detachment several minutes later with Romie, they were met by Archer and Bechard. Romie was escorted into the detachment and given an initial pat-down.

Video footage from inside the Yellowknife detachment shows Romie facing a wall while Archer holds her handcuffed hands behind her back, lifted high in the air for about 90 seconds. Romie can be seen standing on her tip-toes in an apparent effort to take the pressure of her shoulders.

A short time later, one of Romie's handcuffs is removed and that arm is placed on the wall above her head. Romie then drops her arm and turns toward Bechard, and Bechard punches Romie in the head. 

Cst. Francessca Bechard with her lawyer, Robb Beeman (left) and Cpl. Jason Archer (right). Bechard and Archer were each charged with one count of assault for excessive use of force on a prisoner in October 2020. The charges were stayed two days into the trial. (CBC News)

Bechard and Archer were charged after another senior officer made a complaint about the incident. 

The officer in charge of the detachment requested a criminal investigation, which was completed by the Maskwacis RCMP in Alberta.

The investigation was then sent to the Crown's office for evaluation, an RCMP news release said, and the Crown recommended assault charges be laid against the two officers. 

'Shocked' by use of force

At the trial in May, the two officers who initially arrested Romie and witnessed the altercation — Const. Robert Gossmann  and Const. Nicholas Alpaugh — testified they were "shocked" by the use of force. Neither said they saw Romie as a threat.

Former solicitor general of British Columbia, Kash Heed, said that's also how he perceived the interaction. 

Heed, who also served as West Vancouver's police chief during his 32-year policing career, said that while the techniques Bechard and Archer used on Romie are taught by police agencies, in this situation, they were unnecessary. 

"There was no need for immediate control of an intoxicated prisoner who was handcuffed," Heed told CBC News. "There were four well-bodied, male police officers in the vicinity."

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Kash Heed in a file photo from 2021. The former solicitor general of British Columbia said that while the techniques Bechard and Archer used on Romie are taught by police agencies, in this situation, they were unnecessary. (CBC)

Heed said that officers dealing with prisoners can be "assertive" but not "aggressive." 

"When you look at the entire incident, the totality of the need to control that person and the force that was used, in my opinion, was unnecessary."

Heed pointed in particular to the way Archer held Romie's handcuffed arms above her shoulder blades as especially unnecessary. 

"For myself, I am very inflexible and if you took my arms up to that length you would probably rip my collarbone out or shoulders right off the bone there," he said.

Appropriate response to 'aggressive' prisoner

Joel Johnston, a 28-year police veteran and former use of force coordinator for the Vancouver Police Department and the province of British Columbia, saw it differently. 

He said the two officers did exactly what was necessary to gain control of the situation.

Johnston was hired by the defence team to testify at Archer and Bechard's trial. 

"This was a violent, intoxicated, large female," Johnston told CBC by email. 

In video footage of Romie's arrest at the liquor store, she can be heard screaming at the two officers. One of them testified that after being placed in the police vehicle, Romie began kicking the rear door from the inside so hard that the vehicle began to rock. 

In video recorded from inside the police vehicle, Romie can be heard screaming profanities from the back seat. At one point, she says she is going to "f–k up" the two officers.

When they arrived at the detachment, Romie refused to get out of the vehicle and had to be dragged out. 

Johnston says that when Bechard began walking Romie into the detachment, the officer was "met with vitriol, aggression and repeated assaultive behaviour."

"[Romie] repeatedly turned towards the smaller officer, and the issue of assault was omnipresent. When the handcuffs were removed from [Romie], she again turned suddenly and aggressively toward the female officer, who delivered a single, moderately-powered punch and directed her head away from her."

Johnston says the prosecutor's decision to ultimately stay the assault charges against the two officers was the right one. 

In his opinion, "it was not even a close call." 

When the charges were stayed, Crown prosecutor Greg Lyndon told the court there wasn't a "reasonable prospect of conviction."

Lyndon refused to comment further.

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