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Friday, November 26, 2010

'Bad attitude' led to violence, Ottawa defence lawyers say - Public will be 'shocked,' police chief warns

November 26, 2010
By Andrew Seymour, The Ottawa Citizen

Ottawa police officers displayed a "bad attitude" from the very beginning of a controversial cell block video showing Stacy Bonds being kneed, pinned to the floor and stripped of her shirt and bra, the head of Ottawa's defence lawyers association said Thursday.

"She is the smallest person in the room and the officers losing control of themselves in the situation so quickly is very concerning," said Doug Baum. "Why was there such initial roughness? Why the knee strikes?

"There was a bad attitude here that led to violence and improper procedure," said Baum.

The video was obtained exclusively by the Citizen Thursday following the newspaper's application for access to it.

The video, which shows Bonds treatment in the cells following her arrest on Sept. 26, 2008, was central to Ontario Court Justice Richard Lajoie's decision last month to stay charges against her of assaulting police. The judge halted the case against Bonds, finding Ottawa police arrested her unlawfully and called her subsequent treatment in the cells and the strip search a "travesty" and an "indignity."

Lajoie released the video to the Citizen under conditions the newspaper not publish or put on the Internet any portions of the video which showed Bonds' partially exposed breast or her attempts to cover herself with her arm and what remains of her tattered shirt and bra as she is led into a cell.

One of her lawyers, Natasha Calvinho, said Bonds did not oppose the release of the video, but wanted her integrity and privacy protected by the court. Calvinho said Bonds was a "victim" and feared the release of "humiliating" portions of the video would force her to relive what happened.

"To have it played over and over again on a webpage or on television just furthers the indignity of what these police officers did to her," said Calvinho.

The Crown also didn't oppose the video's release.

The Citizen was the city's only media organization to argue before the judge for a release of the videotape.

"Publication and broadcast of the video is vital for a full accounting and understanding of what happened to Ms. Bonds. It's a very important issue to the Citizen," said Editor-in-Chief Gerry Nott.

In the video, which has no audio and was shot just before 6:30 a.m. on the day of her arrest, Bonds can be seen being led through the police holding-cell area. The 27-year-old theatrical makeup artist with no criminal record does not appear to be resisting or aggressive.

Another camera angle then shows her being brought to a booking desk, where she can be seen turning around and appearing to be speak to the officers.

Bonds, whose hands had been cuffed behind her back, has her right arm come free from the handcuffs, prompting one of the officer's to put her in a wrist lock.

That's when special constable Melanie Morris knees Bonds twice in the back of the leg. Bonds' head is violently jerked backwards by the hair several times before she is forced forward against the counter.

Bonds' shoes are then removed and is searched. During an overhead camera view of that search, one of the officers can be seen sticking their hand down the back of Bonds' pants.

It's at that point Bonds appears to mule-kick Morris in the leg. A frame-by-frame playing of the video appears to show four kicks before two of the three male officers at the counter take Bonds to the floor, one of them grabbing her by the arm while the second tightly holds her neck and trips her with his leg.

That's when Sgt. Steve Desjourdy joins the three male officers. He picks up a plastic riot shield and places it across Bonds' legs. Desjourdy and Morris testified at trial she had been flailing her legs around.

Morris, limping noticeably, leans on a garbage can and then a wall before walking out of the frame.

Desjourdy leaves and goes to another desk, where he appears to put on a pair of goggles. He goes down a hallway and returns with a pair of scissors in his hand.

Desjourdy is then seen cutting away Bonds' shirt and bra as she lies prone on the floor.

Morris returns and at one point removes a black leather glove and appears to indicate an area on her leg.

The riot shield is then moved to cover Bonds' face, possibly to prevent her from spitting on the officers. Bonds does not appear to be resisting at any time.

Her bare back visible, Bonds is eventually lifted by the four male officers, her arm across her chest holding what remained of her tattered clothing in an attempt to prevent herself from being completely exposed.

Another camera angle, which is covered by the publication ban, shows Bonds being led down a hallway to a holding cell with nothing but her arm and the small piece of fabric covering her chest. The side of her breast is briefly exposed at one point.

Morris, the female officer, can be seen tearing away what's left of Bonds' shirt and bra before putting her in a cell with the help of the male officers.

Bonds, who had soiled herself, is then left half-naked and in dirty pants for at least three hours and 15 minutes before eventually being provided a pair of coveralls -- an outcome Lajoie attributed to the vengeance and malice of the officers.

There is no video of Bonds receiving the coveralls, however, and the next available video shows an officer standing outside the cell for several seconds before a now-clothed Bonds emerges just after 11:30 a.m.

Bonds had been walking home on Rideau Street in the early morning hours when she was stopped by police. An officer later claimed she had an open bottle in her hand, although Bonds denied that was the case and no bottle was ever seized by police.

An officer ran her name through a police computer and found nothing, so they told her to keep walking home. When she turned back to question why they had stopped her in the first place, she was arrested for public intoxication -- an arrest Lajoie found unlawful at trial -- and taken to police headquarters.

Her lawyer at trial, Matthew Webber, said the video is "indisputable" evidence of an "egregious" violation of Bonds' Charter rights.

"What it shows is a compliant accused coming into the station, not resisting. She could have posed absolutely no risk to any reasonable thinking person," said Webber. "It's an utterly inexplicable and unjustifiable use of extreme force."

In a statement released Thursday, police Chief Vern White said he understood Ottawa residents "will be shocked" by the video, but couldn't comment further because the matter is under a sexual assault investigation by the province's Special Investigations Unit. White, who asked for the public's "understanding and patience" while that investigation was under way, immediately ordered an internal investigation into the actions of the officers following the judge's decision.

Nathalie DesRosiers, general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said that was the right move.

"To the extent that she had no prior criminal record and was not obviously dangerous, the use of force and the way it is presented seems to be unwarranted," DesRosiers said after seeing the video. "Certainly, the cutting of the bra and the way in which it was done appeared to be another misconduct."

DesRosiers said the police reaction appeared excessive, especially when the four male officers appear to be "ganging up" on Bonds.

"You don't expect police violence of that sort unless they are in danger," she said. "They can only use reasonable force if it proportionate and warranted by the circumstances. In this case ... it seemed unreasonable force for the circumstances."

Baum said he was shocked by the initial attitude of the officers.

"She is not being escorted into the cell block, she is being yanked and pulled," said Baum, adding there was no apparent justification for the subsequent knees or strip search that followed.

In an opinion article on the Citizen's Arguments page today, the past president of the Ontario bar association, James Morton, concludes "for the sake of all Canadians a case like that of Stacy Bonds must never be allowed to happen again."

"The Stacy Bonds case shows a Canadian being mistreated by police in the nation's capital. Compounding the wrongful behaviour was the laying of charges for the apparent purpose of covering up misconduct," he writes in the opinion article.

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