A Winnipeg police constable has been found not guilty of injuring an inmate inside a Public Safety Building holding cell.
Queen’s Bench Justice Joan McKelvey delivered her verdict this afternoon in front of a standing-room only crowd, which included nearly a dozen uniformed police officers out to support their colleague.
Const. Ryan Law, 30, had pleaded not guilty to aggravated assault and faced the likely end of his career if convicted. But in a lengthy written decision, McKelvey said the Crown had failed to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the incident happened as the victim claimed.
Law was accused of brutally assaulting Henry Lavallee by kicking him in the abdomen on the afternoon of Nov. 22, 2008. Soon after leaving police custody, Lavallee was rushed to hospital from the Winnipeg Remand Centre and underwent emergency surgery for a tear in his bowel. Prosecutors alleged Law was responsible.
In closing arguments last month, Law’s lawyer called Lavallee a "pathological liar" whose report of officer misconduct can't be believed.
"His evidence is not worthy of belief, at all, on any standard," Richard Wolson told court.
Law testified on his own behalf, denying assaulting the 49-year-old Lavallee, whom he and his partner had arrested as a suspect in a vehicle break and enter in the Exchange District.
Wolson claimed Lavallee lied as many as 25 times in his testimony. The lawyer spent considerable time pointing out elements of Lavallee's evidence he says didn't add up.
For example, said Wolson, Lavallee was paraded in front of Law's supervising sergeant just before being taken to the remand centre from his holding cell, and didn't complain of ill health or other concerns -- minutes after he was allegedly kicked by Law.
Lavallee testified he couldn't walk and had to be dragged by police, but the evidence presented showed the opposite -- that he was walking under his own power, said Wolson. "He walked the entire time on his own," Wolson said.
It was only after being delivered to the downtown lockup that Lavallee first made a claim of being attacked by Law, in the presence of remand staff.
Independent Crown prosecutor Kerry UnRuh took an opposite view, saying Lavallee disclosed the incident at that time because he felt safe enough to do it in front of corrections personnel, and not just police.
It's more likely Lavallee was simply "mistaken" on some points, not outright lying, said UnRuh. He asked McKelvey to consider the "different environment" in which Lavallee lived -- one of homelessness and "dozens" of interactions with police -- when assessing his testimony.
"He's different than you and I," said UnRuh. "It does not surprise me that four years, five years post-incident he does not have a specific recollection."
UnRuh said the defence theory Lavallee sustained the stomach injury prior to being arrested, only to see him quickly drum up a plan to frame Law for doing it, isn't credible.
"With the greatest of respect, it just doesn't make sense," UnRuh said.
- with files from James Turner