Videos taken by two witnesses were the first pieces of evidence presented at the trial of a Kelowna RCMP officer Tuesday.
Const. Siggy Emmett-Steven Pietrzak was charged with assault almost a year after he was filmed repeatedly punching a man during an arrest in downtown Kelowna on May 30, 2020.
The man on the receiving end of Const. Pietrzak's hits, Tyler Russell, filed a lawsuit against the officer in June 2020 after Castanet published a cellphone video of the arrest. The RCMP also filed a response to the suit.
The first iPhone video played in court was taken by Cameron Vold. Vold was walking from the beach at City Park with a couple of friends towards the Cactus Club when he saw a commotion and started filming.
He testified that he saw someone being arrested across the street near the parking lot of Kelly O’Bryan’s. Two officers were attempting to get the man’s arms behind him when a third officer came running in and started punching the man in the face.
Vold told the court he saw five or six punches thrown.
Under cross-examination by defence lawyer David Butcher, Vold testified he could not say with certainty how many of the punches connected but he was ‘pretty sure you can see him (Pietrzak) hitting him (Russell) in the face.”
A slow-motion version of the video was played and Vold said he could see about two blows that connected.
The second iPhone video was taken by former professional baseball player and former Team Canada member Tyson Gillies.
He had just sat down with some friends for dinner on the rooftop patio at Kelly O’Bryan’s when he saw and heard other diners rushing over to the side and looking down. Gillies started filming almost immediately.
He captured the arrest in progress, with two officers struggling to get Russell under control, and then Pietrzak running to the scene.
Gillies admitted that the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis just five days before had stirred up anti-police sentiment in the community. He testified that he cut out the sound on the video when he sent it to his mother and a couple of other people because of offensive language.
When questioned by Butcher, Gillies said some of the people on the patio were yelling ‘get him’ but he couldn’t say if they were targeting their comments at the police officers or Russell.
The first RCMP officer to encounter Russell on that day also took the stand during the opening day of testimony.
Const. Jacqualine Davidson said she responded to a complaint from a woman about a man in the parking lot behind 294 Bernard Ave. who was possibly impaired and acting erratically, and the woman feared he could drive away.
Davidson testified that Russell appeared to be on drugs and was uncooperative when she came across him in the passenger seat of a pickup truck. He refused to answer most of her questions, but because he did not appear to be in the commission of an offence, she left the scene. Before she left, another officer with the traffic unit arrived to keep an eye on the man in the vehicle.
About 45 minutes later, she returned to the scene when she heard calls for assistance from officers at the scene. She did not see Const. Pietrzak in the parking lot but did see him at the RCMP cells that night, where she noticed his right hand was red and swollen.
Crown prosecutor David Hainey opened the trial with the contention that he would be attempting to prove that Pietrzak used force that exceeded what is considered necessary, reasonable and proportional under RCMP policy and training and based on a previous ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada.
Butcher also offered brief comments. He argued that based on what his client saw when he arrived at the scene, Pietrzak assessed that the two officers struggling with Russell could not make the arrest on their own and he decided to deliver ‘hard strikes.' Butcher added that the judge in the case, Mariane Armstrong, would have to decide if the number of strikes was too many.
The Crown will be calling several more RCMP officers, including an expert in the use of force by police.
The trial is scheduled to continue most of this week, and then resume in late June.