Several more Kelowna RCMP officers who were involved in a downtown arrest two years ago testified during the second day of Const. Siggy Pietrzak's assault trial Wednesday.
Const. Pietrzak was captured on video on May 30, 2020 while assisting two other officers arrest a man in a downtown Kelowna parking lot off Water Street, behind the BMO Bank of Montreal.
The video shows two officers, Const. David Carter and Const. Regan Donahue, struggling to arrest Tyler Russell, before Pietrzak runs towards the men and repeatedly strikes Russell in the face.
The video of the incident, first published by Castanet, received widespread attention.
Pietrzak was placed on desk duty shortly after the incident occurred, and Russell filed a civil lawsuit against the officer and the RCMP. Close to a year after the incident occurred, a criminal assault charge was laid against Pietrzak and he's been suspended with pay for more than a year.
Despite the violent arrest of Russell, no criminal charges were ever laid against him for the incident.
During the second day of trial Wednesday, Const. Carter testified about how he first attempted to get Russell to take a breathalyzer test, after suspecting he was impaired. Const. Jacqualine Davidson had initially responded to the parking lot area over a report that Russell had been acting erratically, but since he was in the passenger seat of a pickup truck when she spoke with him, she left the scene. But Const. Carter kept an eye on him for some time, before approaching him and demanding a breathalyzer test from him.
Const. Carter testified Russell had a “thousand-yard stare,” when he spoke with him, became argumentative, and then refused to take a breathalyzer. In his civil suit, Russell's lawyer Michael Patterson contended that his client had “no obligation to comply with unlawful demands,” as “his keys were not in his possession or near him and he was not in violation of any criminal or bylaw offences.”
Const. Carter called for backup and attempted to arrest Russell for obstruction. Const. Donahue arrived on scene within two minutes and attempted to assist.
Const. Donahue testified about their attempts to arrest Russell – by trying to sweep out his feet, drag him down to the ground by his neck and pulling his hands behind his back – but the two officers were unsuccessful. The officer said Russell was yelling “what are you doing?” and swearing throughout the ordeal.
Const. Carter testified he dropped his handcuffs while trying to arrest Russell, and he said the arrest was one of the top 10 most difficult arrests he's had to make in his career. He said he “couldn't believe” the strength of Russell in resisting the arrest.
He testified that he couldn't say what would have happened if Pietrzak hadn't arrived and began hitting Russell, but he said he and Const. Donahue “were not winning” at that point. But Const. Donahue said he thought the three officers would have “eventually” been able to wrestle Russell to the ground.
After finally getting Russell into an RCMP vehicle, officers found a bottle of Bacardi rum and a "crack pipe" inside the truck Russell was in. They also found a bag of a substance inside Russell's wallet that came back positive for cocaine.
Const. Macklin McCall was the fourth officer to arrive on scene, and he helped the others get Russell into the squad car. He testified Wednesday about the crowd of bystanders who'd formed around the incident.
“They were actually yelling, swearing, it was all directed towards the police,” Const. McCall said. “At one point I even had to go tell someone that if they didn't stop they would be arrested for obstruction.”
Defence counsel David Butcher noted the arrest occurred just five days after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, but Const. McCall said he didn't remember that.
Staff Sgt. Martin Trudeau was the watch commander on duty on the night in question and dealt with Russell when he was brought into the Kelowna RCMP detachment cells. He testified Russell was not co-operative when he arrived and was “very, very angry.”
Staff Sgt. Trudeau testified he put Russell in a restraint chair, which he colloquially called a “Hannibal Lecter chair,” and put a fabric “spit hood” over his head, while paramedics examined him. He said Russell hadn't been spitting at that point, but he wanted to protect the paramedics.
The watch commander said Russell was released from custody and taken to Kelowna General Hospital for treatment for his injuries. No criminal charges were ever laid against Russell for the incident.
Staff Sgt. Trudeau testified he had plans to go mountain biking with Pietrzak the next morning, but Pietrzak cancelled because of the bruising on his hand, caused by striking Russell.
Pietrzak was also facing a separate domestic assault charge against a female complainant stemming from an off-duty incident in West Kelowna between May 1, 2017 and December 31, 2017, but that charge appears to have been stayed by the BC Prosecution Service last week.
BCPS spokesperson Dan McLaughlin did not provide a specific reason why the charge was dropped, only saying the "charge assessment standard was no longer met."