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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Niagara Regional Police officers must pay for ‘act of reprisal'

July 1, 2009
Kirk Makin, Globe and Mail

An Ontario Superior Court judge has ordered five police officers to pay $50,000 to a Niagara Falls man for dragging him from his car, repeatedly beating and tasering him, and then wrongly imprisoning him for five days.

Mr. Justice C.R. Harris included a rare punitive damages award of $20,000, saying that each of the Niagara Regional Police officers “decided to flout the law for their own purposes. The actions of the officers in this case are very troubling an offence and, I suspect, would deeply sadden and shock the community in which they were perpetrated.”

Judge Harris said that concocted testimony from the officers carried an odour of conspiracy, and that their real motive in assaulting Michael Allan Parsons was “an act of reprisal” against a local rounder whom they disliked and believed had insulted them.

“I am persuaded that their testimony was at times self-serving, often equivocal and unclear, and in some instances, pure fiction,” Judge Harris said. “Their testimony also struck me as being too pure and sanitized.”

The attack took place around 10 p.m. December 18, 2003 on a rural road near Fort Erie, Ont. Judge Harris found that Mr. Parsons yelled, “Hey, baby,” at one of the officers as he and his fiancée, Terri Lynn Ryckman, drove by a group of police gathered by the road.

Judge Harris said that the officers, Michael Woodfine, Dino Cirillo, Todd Priddle, James Tallevi and Darren Forbes, lied in claiming that Mr. Parsons hurled profanity at them and hung halfway out the window of his jeep.

In testimony at his trial on charges of assault and resisting arrest, Mr. Parsons described being pulled from the jeep in a chokehold, and having his hands handcuffed behind his back while the officers administered 15 taser shocks to his legs, scrotum, throat, back and buttocks.

“It felt like fire,” he testified. “It felt like it made my whole body convulse and jump.… It just burned.… Your whole body just jumps when it hits you. It's excruciating.

“I was in terror,” Mr. Parsons said. “I feared for my life afterwards because of what they had done to me.… I feel that I could have died that day on the side of that road. I'm still scared to this day.”

The officers, for their part, described a wild melee that they claimed Mr. Parsons provoked by charging out of his jeep in a rage. They said that he repeatedly attacked them, wrestling them to the ground, and gave up only after receiving a few measured jolts with the taser.

Judge Harris rejected their story almost entirely. “The events that unfolded at the side of the road that December evening strike me as epitomizing arbitrary and capricious conduct deserving of strong condemnation from this court,” he said.

Judge Harris also noted that the Crown later dropped the charges against Mr. Parsons, who subsequently sued police over his treatment.

The award was assessed at $83,000, but only $50,000 could be awarded for technical legal reasons. It includes $30,000, against officers Tallevi, Woodfine and Cirillo for the assault and tasering; $19,000 against Officer Tallevi for false arrest and false imprisonment and malicious prosecution; and $10,000 for nervous shock and emotional distress.

Judge Harris awarded $20,000 to Ms. Ryckman.

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