Two Mounties chose the “best available option” when arresting a car thief in 2019, at which time they struck the suspect at least 27 times, according to a judge.
Richmond RCMP Const. Matthew McGuire and Const. John Tsonos, from the Surrey detachment, appeared in person before the Richmond Provincial Court on Wednesday morning to hear their fate.
The arrest occurred in October of 2019, after a car thief driving a stolen vehicle was stopped in Richmond by RCMP officers. The thief fled on foot and was later caught by police in front of a Richmond house.
The car thief was a prolific offender known to RCMP and had a history of drug and auto theft crimes. Such crimes, the Court heard, are associated with serious offences such as homicide, making the officers concerned he might be carrying a weapon.
The home’s security camera captured the arrest, which showed three police officers including McGuire and Tsonos striking and kicking the car thief at least 27 times before commanding him to show his hands. The third officer, who was the first to engage and was not charged in the proceedings, apparently asked the car thief repeatedly to show his hands and get on the ground prior to striking him.
It was unclear how many blows had landed and where they landed. No further strikes were made after the officers managed secure both of the car thief’s hands.
McGuire, 32, said during the trial he had a “feeling of anxiety” when entering the area and felt the need to act “quickly” in case anything bad happened. He made a “split-second decision” to holster his gun in a situation with “no good options.” He also mentioned concerns for the occupants of the house where the arrest was taking place.
Tsonos, 48, said he assessed the situation to be “very high” risk due to several factors, including the car thief’s criminal history and having heard the first officer yell “shoot you” at the thief.
The car thief did not testify in the proceedings.
Policing environment “increasingly challenging and dangerous”
Provincial Court Judge Jay Solomon said he found McGuire and Tsonos’ evidence to be “credible, reliable and consistent with the security camera recording” and accepted their assessment the car thief posed “an extremely high risk.”
Considering the circumstances of the arrest, Solomon said the manner of arrest was “not particularly concerning or shocking.”
“This was a high-risk and dynamic situation that required the use of force to effect the lawful arrest,” he said.
“In this case, the officers chose the best available option, that was to take (the car thief) down with the use of hands.”
As the car thief did not make any complaints other than two “minor abrasions” on his face and difficulty in breathing due to asthma, Solomon thinks the blows delivered by the officers were “of limited force.”
Solomon added the car thief was not a victim and had “no legitimate complaint” as he “voluntarily engaged in extremely risky behaviour by his involvement in serious criminal activity and resisting lawful arrest.”
Solomon also noted the recent deaths of Ontario police officers and a Burnaby RCMP officer, Richmond resident Const. Shaelyn Yang, who were all killed in the line of duty. Solomon further acknowledged recent “random violent attacks on members of the public in shootings related to gang violence.”
“Although anecdotal, it appears that the policing environment is increasingly challenging and dangerous,” he said, adding training is “critical” to the safety of officers and the public.
“Police officers must always act on reasonable grounds and use only as much force as necessary. However, sometimes this necessary force will require officers to act aggressively to gain control of a suspect as soon as possible,” said Solomon.
“Even a brief delay in acting on a threat could result in grievous bodily harm or death to an officer or a member of the public.”
Solomon concluded the officers’ use of force was “required, authorized, proportional, necessary and reasonable,” and declared them not guilty.