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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Waterloo judge questions use of stun gun

December 12, 2007
DIANNE WOOD, Waterloo Record

KITCHENER - A prosecutor defended Waterloo regional police yesterday after a judge questioned the actions of officers who strip-searched an unruly prisoner and shot him with a stun gun last summer. "It's 100 per cent by the book,'' assistant Crown attorney Mike Murdoch said of the arrest and treatment of Michael Campbell by Waterloo regional police on Aug. 22.

Campbell is on trial for assaulting an officer by biting his finger during a struggle in a cell at the Kitchener police detachment. The 26-year-old man had been arrested for breaching court orders and was drunk when he refused a strip search and fought police in his cell.

The judge wondered why police had to strip-search someone facing such minor charges. He wanted to hear from the officer who shot Campbell with the Taser to subdue him for the strip-search.

But Murdoch said the Taser incident, which happened more than an hour before Campbell is alleged to have bitten the officer in the cell, has nothing to do with the assault charge Campbell faces. "We're here to decide did Michael Campbell assault this peace officer?'' Murdoch told the judge. "Waterloo regional police are not on trial here. "Your Honour, perhaps, is vexed by the fact the Taser was used,'' he said. "That's really a hot-button issue right now. This case has absolutely nothing to do with (the) Taser. Let's not cloud the issue with Tasers and searches.'' The prosecutor called the police behaviour "exemplary.''

But Westman was just as firm. "I am concerned, when prisoners are brought in, how they are treated,'' he said. "That's where mistreatment can occur. I don't look at it as totally exemplary. It involves a strip search.'' The judge went on to say, "It's too bad this place isn't filled with the public'' so people could hear what happened.

Murdoch said the fact that two members of the media were in the courtroom meant the public would learn of the case. "They should hear every vile word Mr. Campbell said,'' Murdoch said. "All I've heard is this man was rude and assaultive and the officers were trying to diffuse the situation.''

Campbell's lawyer, Mark Nowak, has said police used excessive force on Campbell. He produced a photo showing Campbell with a bruised eye caused by an officer who punched him in the face several times during the scuffle in the cell.

Murdoch urged the judge to focus on the charge against Campbell. He said the case was about a bite to a "family man,'' referring to Const. Daniel Cimermancic, who got medical treatment in case Campbell had an infectious disease.

"Don't be dramatic Mr. Murdoch,'' the judge retorted. He said the case was about everything that happened between police and Campbell that night. "Sometimes, things get out of hand,'' he said. "That's what we're here looking at.''

Campbell, who has a record for assaulting police, was belligerent from the time of his arrest, court heard. He refused to be strip-searched and the stun gun was used to force compliance.

The judge wondered why the thorough search was needed when police had already patted down Campbell during his arrest. Acting Sgt. Kurt Hartill, who ordered the strip-search, said sometimes things are missed in a pat-down search. Officers must check for drugs, weapons or items that could be used as weapons, he said. In Campbell's case, they found nipple piercings which they removed.

The stun gun didn't work on Campbell, however, and he threatened to kill officers and invited them to fight. Hartill ordered him to the ground where he was cuffed. "He was like an animal on the floor,'' the officer said. "He was crazed, violent. . . .''

Police got him into a cell. They had to go back in twice -- once to remove a mattress Campbell used to cover the camera in his cell, and once to remove a blanket for the same reason. Police needed to be able to monitor his well-being in the cell, Hartill said.

Things were quiet until Campbell spit on the camera lens twice, blurring officers' view of him. Hartill decided to restrain him. Hartill wanted Campbell's arms to be cuffed outside the cell bars so he couldn't reach the camera. He refused, bit the officer on the hand and thrashed around, court heard.

In a video shown in court, three officers can be seen restraining Campbell. Hartill admitted he hit Campbell in the face "to repel this assault and control him. He was absolutely the worst prisoner I've ever seen,'' Hartill said. The trial continues on Dec. 20.

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