Two Mounties will have to wait at least another month to learn their fate after striking a suspected car thief around 25 times during an arrest.
Const. Matthew McGuire, of Richmond RCMP, and Const. John Tsonos, from the Surrey detachment, are on trial for allegedly using unreasonable force after stopping a vehicle that had fled from Surrey to Richmond in October 2019.
The trial for McGuire and Tsonos — who face one count of assault each for their part in the arrest — ended on Friday morning with submissions from Crown counsel and defence lawyers.
The Richmond News previously reported that a man allegedly driving a stolen vehicle from Surrey was stopped in Richmond and subsequently arrested by Surrey police with the help of a Richmond officer.
The assault had allegedly occurred as they were taking the suspect into custody.
During the near two-week-long trial at Richmond Provincial Court, evidence submitted included a video clip of the arrest, testimonies from officers on the scene, including McGuire and Tsonos, and expert evidence on the use of force by police.
The video, which Crown acknowledged does not show the officers’ perspective, shows three officers throwing a total of around 25 closed-fist punches and knee strikes at the suspect for approximately 35 seconds.
This included a knee strike by McGuire to the suspect’s face. During that time, officers were heard saying, “Stop f***ing screaming,” amongst other things. The third officer was not charged in the current case.
“That video, on itself, is rather shocking,” said Judge Jay Solomon, adding that one would have a “visceral reaction” from watching the video.
Crown acknowledged it was an “exceptionally brief” interaction and officers later helped the suspect up, shortly after handcuffing him, before taking him into custody.
The only evidence presented to the Court regarding the suspect’s injuries were “two facial abrasions” and no apparent injuries.
The court heard that, before the first punch was thrown, the suspect had ignored an officer’s command to get on the ground nine times.
Both sides agreed that the situation was “dynamic and fast-paced,” as well as “high-risk.” The suspect was known to be involved in drug and auto-theft crimes, which meant he could have had a weapon.
Crown also told the court that while McGuire did not know the suspect, Tsonos had known him for the past nine years and knew he did not fight police officers.
In closing, Crown said its position that McGuire and Tsonos used unreasonable force in the arrest rested on two elements: the lack of communication and the number of strikes. Though the officers did speak during the 35 seconds, they did not command the suspect to show his hands at all.
Crown explained that a “vast majority” of high-risk situations were resolved through communication.
Later, Judge Solomon said it was “difficult to disagree with the proposition that suspects are not mind-readers.”
“If you want them to do certain things, you should try to give a clear command,” he said.
Crown also said that while the type of force used could adhere to police protocols, the number of times such forces were used should affect the reasonableness of force.
In response, defence counsel for Tsonos told the court that his client did not have a lot of time to think and react, and the officers’ conduct should not be measured to a standard of perfection during such circumstances.
Counsel for McGuire, on the other hand, emphasized that his client was not “constantly striking for 35 seconds” and the strikes stopped after the suspect’s last arm was restricted. He added that it is unclear how many of the blows had landed.
During the trial, Solomon commented that in this case, both police and the suspect were “damned if they do, damned if they don’t” considering the circumstances.
According to BC RCMP’s last news release, Tsonos was suspended with pay while McGuire was on administrative duties while the internal code of conduct investigation took place.
A date for Solomon to give his verdict will be set on Monday, Oct. 24.