Kelowna Mountie found not guilty of assault in 2020 downtown arrest

Cops' punches 'reasonable'

UPDATE: 12:55 p.m.

The multiple punches Const. Siggy Pietrzak's threw during the arrest of Tyler Russell on the afternoon of May 30, 2020 were “reasonable, necessary and proportionate,” according to Judge Mariane Armstrong.

Judge Armstrong acquitted Pietrzak of an assault charge Thursday morning, bringing a conclusion to a lengthy trial that began last May.

Pietrzak was charged with assault in April 2021, a year after he was involved in the arrest of Russell in a downtown Kelowna parking lot.

Two videos of the incident were taken by bystanders and used as evidence during the trial. The footage shows two officers, Const. David Carter and Const. Regan Donahue, struggling to arrest Russell, when Pietrzak arrives on scene and delivers multiple punches to Russell's face.

The trial began in May of this year and continued on and off through October, far longer than initially scheduled. The Crown called 11 witnesses, while the defence called two, including Pietrzak himself. Judge Armstrong called the evidence in the case “surprisingly complex.”

“An event that took mere seconds has occupied more than 12 days of hearing,” Judge Armstrong said.

The case ultimately came down to applying Section 25 of Canada's Criminal Code, in which a police officer's use of force must be “proportionate, necessary or objectively reasonable.”

The May 30 incident began after a member of the public called police about a possible impaired driver in the downtown Kelowna BMO Bank parking lot. Russell had been drinking all day, and admitted to having used some cocaine, and was sitting alone in a truck in the parking lot, when Const. Carter approached him.

Russell did not have the keys to the truck on him, and refused to provide a breath sample to the officer. Const. Carter then tried to arrest Russell, but Russell resisted, leading to the physical altercation. Const. Donahue was the first to arrive as backup, followed by Pietrzak.

In his testimony, Pietrzak said the two officers, who are in their 50s and are smaller than Russell, appeared to be losing the altercation, and Pietrzak chose to repeatedly punch Russell to get him to comply. This ultimately worked, and the three officers managed to handcuff Russell and get him in a police cruiser.

While Crown prosecutor David Hainey argued through trial that Pietrzak was not justified in using the force he did against the struggling Russell, as Russell's arms were held by the other officers, Judge Armstrong ultimately concluded this was not the case.

“The fluidity of the situation as seen on the video and as described by Const. Donahue speaks to the lack of control that Const. Donahue and Const. Carter had over Mr. Russell,” she said.

“I find that upon [Pietrzak's] arrival, Mr. Russell was not yet under the control of Const. Carter and Donahue.”

Judge Armstrong ruled that Pietrzak used “measured force” against Russell, and Russell did not suffer any long-term physical injuries. She also said the punches were a necessary choice to get compliance from Russell.

She also noted the force used was reasonable, and that Pietrzak did not “employ a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”

In her ruling, Judge Armstrong noted the incident occurred just five days after George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in Minnesota, an incident that led to widespread protests across the globe.

Judge Armstrong said the incident caused anti-police sentiments even in Kelowna, noting Pietrzak's testimony that he had been accosted by members of the public the day before Russell's arrest, and called a “racist,” a “f***ing pig” and a “f***ing piece of s***.”

Pietrzak said the incident was a “reflection of the mood that was circulating in Kelowna at the time.”

Judge Armstrong said that despite the events occurring around the world at the time of Russell's arrest, Pietrzak's guilt or innocence could only be assessed using the evidence at trial.

“When police act beyond the scope of their authority or power the population loses confidence in the police and the justice system ... such loss of confidence can undermine the safety of everyone, police included,” Judge Armstrong said.

“Lawful use of of force is an important tool in the maintenance of the just, peaceful and safe society. Unlawful use of force threatens such a society. Accordingly, it is critically important to assess the evidence in this case and apply the law in a fair, transparent and ultimately correct manner.”

She also noted Pietrzak's actions were “disturbing” to the civilian bystanders.

“The fact that the punches were disturbing is not surprising in the context of this apparent three-to-one struggle, and against the backdrop of the murder by a police officer of George Floyd days before. The fact that people are disturbed to see such violence is heartening; apathy in the face of such violence would be much more troubling.”

While she conceded Pietrzak's punches were “shocking,” she ruled they were “reasonable.”

ORIGINAL: 10:45 a.m.

A Kelowna RCMP officer was found not guilty of an assault charge Thursday morning.

Const. Siggy Pietrzak was charged with assault, stemming from his involvement in the arrest of Tyler Russell in downtown Kelowna in May 2020. Two people caught the incident on camera.

His trial began in May, but it took far longer than initially scheduled, carrying through, off and on, to October.

The trial wrapped up on Oct. 7, but Judge Mariane Armstrong reserved her decision to Thursday.

Video of the May 30 arrest showed two officers struggling to arrest Russell in a downtown Kelowna parking lot, when Const. Pietrzak arrived on scene and sprinted towards the struggle. He then delivered several punches to Russell's face, while the other two officers appear to be holding Russell's arms.

At the end of the trial, Crown prosecutor David Hainey said it's up to Judge Armstrong to determine if Pietrzak's actions during the arrest of Russell were “reasonable, necessary and proportionate.”

Both the Crown and defence used testimony from “expert witnesses” Staff. Sgt. Leonard McCoshen for the Crown and Sgt. Brad Fawcett for the defence. While McCoshen testified Pietrzak's conduct was not in accordance with RCMP training and policy, Fawcett concluded the opposite.

More to come...

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