Nelson police assault trial completed, judge reserves decision

More details from the trial of Cst. Drew Turner...

Prosecution and defence lawyers gave their final arguments to Judge Richard Hewson today in the assault trial of Nelson police officer Drew Turner following an incident in Nelson on May 1, 2014, while Turner was off duty.

Hewson will deliver his judgement in the case later in the summer.

Turner is accused of knocking Tawny Campbell unconscious by punching her in the face while she was in a police vehicle and handcuffed, following her arrest for being intoxicated in a public place and for being in breach of a previously court-ordered condition that she refrain from drinking alcohol.

The circumstances of the case, and the evidence presented by the prosecution and the defence, are summarized in an earlier story in the Star.

Defence lawyer John Green stated that the main issue in the case was whether the force used by Turner was excessive. He explained that the test found in the case law is an “objective-subjective” one, posing a double question: whether there was an objective basis for the officer’s actions, and whether the officer reasonably believed that that level of force was essential to subdue the person. And Green added that allowance has to be made for the fact that the situation was chaotic and fast-moving, with no time to calculate the force of a blow.

Green told the judge that he must acquit Turner if he accepts these aspects of the evidence given during the trial:

  • Cst. Bill Andreaschuk, who was not succeeding in arresting Campbell on his own, needed Turner’s assistance.
  • Campbell was yelling, kicking, screaming and actively resisting throughout the incident which was intense and noisy and lasted only a few minutes.
  • Turner was warned by Andreaschuk that “she is a fighter and she will bite you” and that she is known by police to have unusual strength for her size.
  • Turner did not know Campbell and had no personal animosity toward her.
  • The force used by Turner was necessary to contain her, and he used it to prevent an assault on him initiated by Campbell grabbing the front of his shirt.
  • Turner reacted immediately to a perceived threat and had no time to reflect on such things as whether to use an open hand or closed fist.
  • Turner had no intention to cause serious injury.

Green said Turner used the level of force he believed to be reasonably necessary in the moment.

Green also analyzed some of the testimony given in the trial.

During his testimony, Cst. Jarrett Slomba said he and Cst. David Laing arrived on the scene while Turner and Andreaschuk were trying to subdue Campbell in the back of the vehicle, and he touched Turner on the shoulder and said, “I’ve got this,” in an attempt to take over from him. Turner testified during the trial that that did not happen.

Green argued that Turner did not notice the arrival of Slomba and Laing, based on inconsistencies in the testimony of constables Andreaschuk, Slomba, and Laing in terms of where people were standing and what they said, and when.

Based on the same purported inconsistencies, Green questioned Slomba’s testimony that Campbell did not grab Turner’s shirt in an attempt to attack him, because he said Slomba could not have seen her hands from where he was standing.

Green told the judge that if he has a reasonable doubt about whether or not the level of force was excessive in the circumstances, he must acquit Turner.

Prosecutor Debra Drissell said Turner used excessive force. “Our theory is that Turner has a temper and this girl was not shutting up like he wanted her to,” she told the judge.

She based her argument on specific testimony:

  • Campbell was pinned in the back seat between the seat and the floor, she was handcuffed (in front of her body) and she was a 107-pound woman dealing with four large men.
  • Slomba testified that Turner appeared enraged and that in punching Campbell’s face he used “extreme force.”
  • Two officers testified that they heard Slomba say to Turner, “I’ve got it,” and attempt to relieve him.
  • Two officers said they saw Turner punch her in the chest as well as in the face.
  • Of the four officers present, only Turner testified that Campbell grabbed his shirt in an attempt to attack him; the others did not see this.
  • Turner testified (in agreement with the testimony of other officers) that after punching Campbell in the face, he said, “That will shut her up,” walked away, and did not attempt to help Campbell.
  • In a tape recording of a phone call Turner made to the police dispatcher minutes after the incident, which was entered as evidence in the trial, he displayed a callous attitude toward the incident.

“Even if she did grab him, which we do not accept, the force he used was still excessive,” said Drissell.

Judge Hewson, addressing Turner after the final submissions were over, said he would like to give a decision immediately, but would “rather be right than quick.” He said he needed time to think through his judgement, and that on Aug. 4 a court date will be set for him to deliver it.

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