Thursday, May 20, 2010
Judge rejects man's abuse allegations against police
A Manitoba judge has cleared Winnipeg police officers of allegations they sexually assaulted a man they arrested during a break-and-enter investigation.
Leon Vermette claimed he was the victim of repeated abuse in a complaint filed with the Law Enforcement Review Agency. The commissioner found there was insufficient evidence to proceed, so Vermette took his case to court on appeal.
Judge Brian Corrin has now ruled "there is no reasonable basis" to justify any of the allegations. He said there is plenty of evidence -- from both the officers and third-party witnesses -- that police acted appropriately throughout their dealings with Vermette.
The judge was critical of Vermette, saying he would consider ordering him to pay legal costs for the police if the LERA legislation allowed it.
Late Wednesday, Marc Pellerin, vice-president of the police union, the Winnipeg Police Association, said the organization feels vindicated by the judge's decision.
"From the outset, the grotesqueness of the allegations being made struck us as being fantastical," he said. "What really bothered us was within mere hours or days of this having transpired, there was this huge news item coming from the individual and his lawyer. It seemed to us that maybe a little too much stock was being put in what he said without hearing what the circumstances really were."
Vermette, 34, pleaded guilty earlier this year to the May 2008 incident that triggered his arrest.
He admitted to running inside a woman's home while carrying a large knife as he tried to flee from gang members. Vermette, who has a lengthy criminal record, then barricaded himself in the woman's bathroom while she called 911. Police broke down the door to arrest Vermette, whose behaviour they described as "erratic."
Vermette was sentenced to 16 days of time in custody and two years of probation as part of a plea bargain between Crown and defence lawyers. Defence lawyer Martin Glazer slammed the alleged actions of as many as eight officers involved in the case, putting on the public record there was evidence supporting his client's claims of abuse. Glazer submitted photos in court that documented some of Vermette's physical injuries, including a large cut to his head that required a staple, a fractured elbow, a bruised cheek and a torn toenail.
"The first thing he told me was that he'd been raped," Glazer told provincial court Judge Kelly Moar.
Police have always denied sexually assaulting Vermette and say the man admitted to inserting a crucifix into his own rectum -- a claim supported by both paramedics and hospital staff who had dealings with Vermette.
"A review of the many files, reports and progress notes provided to the commissioner's office by the Health Sciences Centre and the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service clearly do not support the allegations," Corrin wrote in his decision.
Police say Vermette admitted to being drunk and high on magic mushrooms as he began fighting with officers while they were trying to search his pants and underwear for possible weapons or drugs. None was found. Medical staff also describe Vermette's behaviour as bizarre.
Police said Vermette struggled with them and his clothes accidentally came down as they tried to restrain him.
"I grabbed the underwear and pulled, ripping them in the process," one officer wrote in his report. Police said they called an ambulance to have Vermette taken to hospital for examination, including an X-ray of his rectum to ensure nothing was concealed. The results were negative and no object was found.
Vermette was never charged with assaulting any police officers -- a fact his lawyer said proves he didn't put up a struggle as documented by police. Vermette claimed police shoved the crucifix into his body while his feet were shackled to a table and his hands cuffed behind his back.
Glazer told the Free Press this week his client is now considering filing a lawsuit against police.
I believe the man's claims that he was sexually assaulted. Why would you lie about something as serious as that? I also think it's interesting that when police officers are charged with an offence, they never seem to get convicted... Interesting how that works...