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Kamloops Mountie had Columbine on her mind while responding to school where youth worker was arrested, judge told

Officer thinking Columbine

One of two police officers being sued for excessive force for her part in the 2010 arrest of a youth worker outside a Kamloops school had the Columbine shooting on her mind while the arrest took place, a judge has been told.

Mike McLellan is suing two former Kamloops Mounties — constables Evan Elgee and Carla Peters — as well as the RCMP and the provincial and federal governments for physical and emotional injuries he claims to have suffered as a result of the violent arrest more than 11 years ago. The civil trial is ongoing in B.C. Supreme Court.

McLellan was 31 in 2010 and working as a youth worker. Court has heard he was at Twin Rivers Education Centre on Holt Street because one of his clients, a teenaged student at the school, was in possession of a knife and had threatened a teacher.

Testifying on Friday, Peters, who retired from the RCMP for unrelated medical reasons in 2017, said she recalled hearing a tone alert ahead of the call sending her to TREC. Tone alerts are audible tones played on police radios by dispatchers to alert officers to a serious incident — typically robberies in progress, shots fired or serious assaults.

Peters said she heard the dispatcher say a student at TREC was armed with a knife and had threatened to cut a teacher’s throat — which sent her mind to the Columbine school shooting, which saw a pair of teenaged gunmen open fire on classmates and staff in their Littleton, Colo., high school in 1999, killing 15 and injuring 24 others.

“I was instantly fearful for the students and teachers and public at the school, along with all of the [RCMP] members, including myself,” she said.

“Any time there is a weapon like that at a school, it chills you. Immediately, my mind went to Columbine.”

Peters said the information that came through from dispatch indicated the suspect was wearing a black jacket — reaffirming Columbine in her mind. She said in court she was aware the Columbine shooters were wearing dark trench coats when they went on their murderous spree.

“When I heard the suspect had on a black leather jacket, I thought that was concerning,” Peters said.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Joel Groves asked Peters to clarify her testimony.

“That was in Colorado — and they had guns, not knives,” he said.

“Correct,” Peters replied. “They were heavily armed.”

Peters said she arrived at the scene and saw two men — McLellan and his client — standing behind a vehicle in the parking lot.

“From my vantage point, they looked the same to me,” she said. “I couldn’t distinguish who was who. … It wasn’t clear to me who was the student and who was the care worker at that time.”

Peters said she pulled her gun and directed the man closest to her, who turned out to be McLellan, to get on the ground.

Peters said she then placed her knee on McLellan’s shoulder and handcuffed him. She said she then searched him, helped him to his feet, uncuffed him and told him he was free to go.

Lawyer David Bilkey asked Peters why she handled the situation the way she did — specifically why she opted to act first and ask questions later.

“Anytime there’s a weapon involved, such as a knife — and given that it’s at a school during school hours, there’s been a threat made already, there’s a teacher that is fearful for their safety — it’s very high risk to responding members, and it’s important that we get it right with our actions and respond so that everybody is safe,” Peters said.

“I needed to get control of that situation quickly. I could not get out of my car and walk behind the car where they were standing and start a conversation with them. That’s not how I was trained.”

Under cross-examination from lawyer Karen Schymon-Martin, Peters admitted the situation might not have appeared tense when police arrived at TREC. But, she said, that doesn’t mean it was safe.

“Just because I get there and things are calm doesn’t mean there’s still not a risk at that time,” she said.

Schymon-Martin suggested Peters rushed her response needlessly and did not take the time to ask McLellan his name or whether he had a knife. Peters admitted she did not ask McLellan his name or whether he had a knife before placing him in handcuffs, but she denied cutting any corners.

“I had to take control of the suspect,” Peters said.

“They were in between me and that school. I didn’t know what the relationship was between the two men, what the conversation was before we arrived. I didn’t know if one of them would turn around with a knife and run back into that school.”

At one point during Peters' cross-examination, Groves interjected with a pointed remark.

"I'm at a loss as to why you didn't ask his name," the judge said.

"I'm directing him, I'm telling him what to do and I'm very aware of my safety," Peters replied.

"There are two high-risk takedowns going on [McLellan and the teen]. There's a whole bunch of stuff going on around me and there's a lot to take in."

Peters’ story differs from that of McLellan, who described an officer “jumping” onto his back after ordering him to the ground, striking him with a knee and then violently picking him up and dropping him while patting him down.

Court has heard McLellan has been largely unable to work since the incident, and has been homeless at times.

McLellan’s chronic pain doctor testified on Thursday and said he expects McLellan to be in pain for the rest of his life.

Elgee was one of three Mounties charged following a high-profile incident in 2010 in which a number of police officers and guards watched two drunk female prisoners engage in sex acts in a jail cell at the Kamloops RCMP detachment, one of whom Peters had arrested. Charges against Elgee were stayed before trial.

Another Mountie implicated in the sex-in-cells incident, Const. Steve Zaharia, is expected to testify for the defendants next week. Elgee is also expected to testify next week.

The civil trial is slated to conclude next week.



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