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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Vancouver police officer not guilty of excessive force in nightclub arrest

Very seldom does the Crown find that a police officer used excessive force in making an arrest. And even though a Victoria Police Department expert in police-control techniques and stun guns testified that Constable Lowe used more force than was necessary, Justice Dohm concluded he was not guilty.

What kills me is that Justice Dohm rejected much of the witnesses’ evidence, citing concerns with inconsistencies and pointing out that nightclub employees discussed the incident afterward and watched the surveillance video together. Based on my experience, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that the three involved officers did exactly the same thing – probably with a union representative and a lawyer present, but Justice Dohm makes no mention of that. What’s good for the police, it seems, is NOT good for the witness.

February 27, 2008
Neal Hall, Vancouver Sun

A city police officer was acquitted today of assault with a Taser and using excessive force while arresting an intoxicated man at a Vancouver nightclub almost three years ago.

Provincial court Judge Tony Dohm found Vancouver police Const. Trevor Lowe, now 30, was justified in making his arrest of nightclub patron Carlo D'Ambrosio and zapping the man three times with a stun gun before throwing him to the sidewalk outside the Stone Temple nightclub on Granville Street in June 2005.

The judge said he rejected the evidence of D'Ambrosio because it had numerous deficiencies and instead accepted the evidence of Lowe and two other officers involved in the incident.

Police shouldn't be held to an unreasonable standard when assessing the use of excessive force, the judge said, adding the complainant was a large, physically fit man who was drunk at the time.

Lowe, who was working an overtime shift the night of the incident and had been on the force three years, was acquitted on charges of assault and assault with a weapon.

He left the courthouse without stopping to comment, although his lawyer said Lowe was glad the case was over. "My client is extremely relieved to have this over with and is extremely relieved that there's this cloud no longer over his head," defence lawyer Reg Harris said outside court. "He's been under an enormous amount of stress, as you can imagine, being charged with a criminal offence," he added. Harris said the case "highlights how difficult policing is in the entertainment district," adding the city "needs more officers in that area."

When a reporter suggested Vancouver has gained a reputation for Taser use, Harris disagreed, saying he had looked at the issue closely.

Lowe's trial last November heard two conflicting versions of the arrest and Tasering of D'Ambrosio. The Crown's theory was that Lowe used excessive force in making the arrest and using the Taser, and then assaulted the handcuffed man by throwing him to the sidewalk outside the club.

The Crown called a Victoria police officer, whose opinion was that Lowe didn't need to Taser the man to get him to comply because witnesses, including two sober employees of the club, said D'Ambrosio wasn't resisting arrest.

One club staff member said she heard D'Ambrosio asking "Why am I being arrested?" and said the officer told the man to relax, then saw the officer zap the club patron with a stun gun. "I am relaxed," the employee heard D'Ambrosio say. "Please stop... you're hurting me," D'Ambrosio added.

The judge pointed out nightclub employees discussed the incident afterward and watched the surveillance video together. The grainy video only caught the final seconds of the incident. One club employee who testified had also discussed the incident with D'Ambrosio, who was a regular patron and good customer of the club, the judge added.

Lowe testified D'Ambrosio was arrested because he was drunk in a public place, repeatedly refused to obey police commands to step back while yelling at police, resisted arrest, and displayed "assaultive behavior" by twisting his body while being handcuffed and removed from the club. Lowe recalled D'Ambrosio was yelling and swearing at police after the man's friend had been removed from the nightclub for being drunk at 2:30 a.m. on June 5, 2005.

Once handcuffed and being taken toward the exit, the officer recalled he warned D'Ambrosio he'd zap him with a Taser if he kept resisting, and, after he believed D'Ambrosio tried to trip him, the officer used his stun gun, sending three jolts of electricity to D'Ambrosio to get him to comply. As they exited the nightclub, Lowe said he was winded and exhausted so he used a "hip toss" to bring D'Ambrosio to the ground, when a sergeant came to Lowe's assistance.

D'Ambrosio, a weightlifter, testified he had about 12 drinks that night. He said he was upset his friend had been removed from the club and wanted to know why. D'Ambrosio said he also questioned police when they arrested him but denied he was resisting arrest. After receiving the Taser jolts, D'Ambrosio recalled being taken outside in a semi-conscious state and slammed to the sidewalk, where the officer got on top of him with his knees on his chest.

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