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Cops involved in alleged abuse of force confronted chaos during brawl

Jun 26 2012

A Victoria police officer who responded to the March 2010 brawl outside of Social Club along with two other officers — who faced abuse-of-force allegations after they were seen kicking and pushing one man in a viral YouTube video — has described a chaotic scene in which police tried to take control of possible suspects as a man with head injuries lay on the ground unresponsive.

Const. Jessica McLeod was the first witness to testify Monday at the first day of the public hearing looking into the force used by constables Chris Bowser and Brendan Robinson as they handcuffed Tyler Archer, then 20.

Police complaint commissioner Stan Lowe ordered a public hearing in February because he disagreed with an investigation by New Westminster police Chief David Jones that cleared Bowser and Robinson of wrongdoing.

The 55-second video, which has been viewed more than 270,000 times on YouTube, was played several times during the hearing. Mike Tammer, lawyer for the police complaint commissioner, paused it several times and went through it frame by frame as McLeod identified people in the video. She can be seen on the other side of the street dealing with other suspects.

At the 0:27 second mark, Bowser, wearing a yellow jacket, yells at Archer twice to get down on the ground. Archer sits on the grass. Robinson rushes in and pushes him over.

Bowser delivers a hard kick to Archer’s side while he’s on all fours and then two more knee jabs to Archer’s back. Archer calls out “ow, ow” repeatedly and a car can be heard honking. Bowser and Robinson then handcuff Archer.

McLeod was with Bowser, Robinson and two reserve constables patrolling downtown bars as part of Victoria police’s Late Night Task Force when they got a call about a melee outside Social Club around 12:30 a.m. on March 21, 2010.

McLeod said she pepper-sprayed one group of males to break up the fight and was treating one man blinded by the effects at the corner of Pandora and Store streets. She was simultaneously calling for an advanced life-support ambulance as she saw victim Ryan Friesen lying unconscious on the sidewalk after having been stomped at least twice on the head.

McLeod said that left Bowser, Robinson and the two volunteer reserve constables to take several other suspects into custody.

During questioning by Bowser’s lawyer, Dennis Murray, McLeod said it was important to get the scene under control quickly to prevent bystanders or intoxicated people filing out of the bars from joining the brawl.

She agreed with Murray that Friesen appeared critically injured and that there was a chance they could be dealing with a homicide.

“Apprehending suspects who could have done this to him was, maybe a lesser priority [than getting help for Friesen], but still a priority?” Murray asked. “Yes, that’s correct,” McLeod said.

Victoria police resources were stretched that morning, McLeod said, with officers being called to a possible fight at a house party and another fight outside Sugar Nightclub within minutes of the brawl at Social.

“My perception of it was [that] we outnumbered in that crowd and the fact that things were dealt with so quickly is for the general safety of everyone else,” McLeod said.

McLeod said having worked extensively with both Bowser and Robinson, she has never witnessed them use excessive force or act unprofessionally.

The hearing, adjudicated by retired provincial court judge Ben Casson, is expected to take six weeks and will hear testimony from Archer, Bowser, Robinson and several witnesses along with use-of-force experts.

Archer and Harpinder Kang, another man alleging he was roughed up that morning, are suing the two constables and the City of Victoria. The lawsuit isn’t set to be heard in B.C. Supreme Court until February 2013.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

Click here to watch the YouTube video

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