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Sunday, November 29, 2009

RCMP defends officer with violent history

November 29, 2009
Rodney Venis, Prince George Citizen

A Prince George officer profiled in the National Post as a "rogue cowboy Mountie" with a "propensity for violence" did not Taser a hog-tied suspect and was not present during the in-custody incident prior to the suspect's death.

RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Tim Shield said Corporal John Graham was with another member at Prince George Regional Hospital as Clayton Willey was being Tasered and dragged through the Prince George detachment in July 2003.

Graham's role in the arrest, which started with Willey confronting RCMP at the Parkwood Place mall in a violent, drug-induced haze and culiminated with the 33-year-old man dying of a cocaine overdose, was limited to binding Willey's feet and hands behind his back. Hogtying suspects, according to the Post, had been banned two months prior to the incident, but Cpl. Graham was reportedly unaware of the change in policy.

"Willey was kicking violently and it was the only way to restrain his legs to prevent him from continuing to kick," said Shields. "In the Willey incident there was no finding against Graham, in fact, he was not present at the time Mr. Willey was Tasered and there was no finding of wrongdoing regarding the arrest."

The policy was changed because hogtying could lead to positional asphyxia, which was potentially fatal.

According to the Post, Graham is currently a supervisor in the North District traffic services integrated road safety unit, based in Prince George.

Shields said the incidents that chequer Graham's career - which include a fatal shooting in Newfoundland, an assault conviction in 2002, the Willey arrest and an altercation with a suspect only known as JAL - must each be judged on its own.

According to the National Post, then Constable Graham's career took a troubled turn in Aug. 2000 in Little Catalina, Newfoundland when he shot and killed Norman Reid. Reid, 43, was a schizophrenic with a history of disturbing behaviour; residents reported that day Reid had threatened some local children "in a violent way", according to an inquiry report.

When RCMP responded, Reid came at Cpl. Graham with an axe, screaming "I'm going to kill you." Graham shot Reid five times.

"The shooting in Newfoundland was the subject of numerous investigations and inquests and was deemed to be a justified use of force," said Shield.

The inquiry, by Judge Donald Luther, did rule Graham behaved appropriately; nevertheless, court documents revealed he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after the incident.

It was not the only incident from his time in Newfoundland. Robert Buckingham, a lawyer for a man in that province suing Cpl. Graham over an unrelated, allegedly wrongful arrest, called the officer a "rogue Cowboy Mountie."

Graham was transferred soon after the Reid shooting to B.C.

In 2002, a year before the death of Willey, he pled guilty to assault causing bodily harm after - according to a B.C. provincial court judgment - an altercation with "a Mr. MacDonald." Cpl. Graham admitted he "overreacted" when he kicked Mr. MacDonald in the torso and head, leaving the latter with broken bones in the face and missing teeth.

The officer was fined, received 18 months probation, was ordered to perform community work and was not disciplined by the RCMP.

"If there is an allegation of excessive force, then an internal code of conduct investigation is launched and, after the court proceeding, there was an internal disciplinary hearing where a board of three very senior officers conduct a trial and call witnesses and make a decision on the appropriate sanctions that can range up to, and including, dismissal from the RCMP," said Shields. "So in this case, this process was followed, there was an internal code of conduct investigation and, after hearing all the facts, the board decided on a sanction that did not include dismissal."

The National Post also reported that Cpl. Graham and another Prince George officer, Const. Glenn Caston, were both involved in Willey's death in 2003 and an incident involving a suspect known as JAL.

Const. Caston told the Willey inquest that he and another officer pulled the suspect by the rope that tied his feet together to get him out of the back of an SUV parked in the Prince George detachment. Willey "may" have bumped his head and shoulder on the frame of the vehicle and the floor of the concrete vehicle bay.

Later, in the detachment's cells booking area, according to the inquest report, Const. Caston and another officer, Const. Kevin O'Donnell, reported they Tasered the hog-tied Willey. The officers, according to the report, believed Willey was still combative, though it is noted nowhere how Willey could have broken free from the hogtie.

Sgt. Shields could not say whether the two officers still serve in Prince George.
In the JAL case, Cpl. Graham testified he deployed his Taser twice against the suspect during a struggle. However he did not file a Taser use report, as the RCMP requires, until more than a year later and JAL's doctor pointed out 21 marks on his body that seemed consistent with burns from a conducted energy weapon. JAL also claimed Const. Caston beat him in the P.G. detachment.

Charges that JAL assaulted RCMP officers were stayed after a videotape of JAL's in-custody treatment went missing, prompting Judge Michael Brecknell to write in his judgment, "This was not a 'simple mistake.'" Brecknell also noted concerns had been aired about Graham's "propensity for violence."

"We have requested an independent directed review to examine the RCMP handling, communication and organizational response in the Willey case and the JAL case," said Shields. "This review will be conducted by a municipal polical department from outside of B.C. The name will be released as soon as we have a formalized agreement in place."

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