December 9, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
Four years after criminal charges began hanging over their heads, two Winnipeg police officers were found not guilty of shooting an unarmed man and then trying to cover it up.
Seconds after a six-woman, six-man Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench jury found both Const. Darrel Keith Selley and Const. Kristopher John Overwater not guilty of all the charges against them on Friday, Selley’s sobbing wife leaped from her seat and hugged him across the metal bar separating lawyers from the public.
Other family members — and fellow officers who supported the pair — also hugged the men and shook their hands as soon as the jury and Chief Justice Glenn Joyal left the courtroom.
Almost 48 hours after they began deliberating, and on the third day of deliberation, the jury acquitted Selley, 40, and Overwater, 32, of all charges including aggravated assault, attempting to obstruct justice and discharging a firearm with intent.
The jury found Selley not guilty of attempted murder, criminal negligence causing injury and careless use of a firearm.
After court, both officers declined to speak to the Free Press.
"We are elated," Richard Wolson, one of Selley’s lawyers, said.
"It has been a very, very long road. I’m so happy for Darrel and his family. It’s a great day, but it took a long time.
"We’re just happy with the results."
Another of Selley’s lawyers, Saul Simmonds, said, "It’s always nice when justice is not only done, but seen to be done.
"In this case, from all perspectives, justice has been done."
Hymie Weinstein, who represents Overwater, said, "You can imagine what they have been under for four years since they were charged.
"This is one of the most difficult trials I have ever been on... we can thank the jury for giving these people back their lives."
Weinstein said he didn’t know what evidence convinced the jury, but "all we know is they had a reasonable doubt on all the charges."
Both lawyers said it will be up to the Winnipeg Police Service to determine the occupational fate of the officers. They were both suspended after being charged.
During the trial, Joyal told the jury if they believed the testimony, told by shooting victim Kristofer Fournier, they would have to convict the officers.
Fournier, a 23-year-old crack cocaine dealer, testified he led police on a dangerous high-speed chase in a stolen vehicle south across the northbound span of the Maryland Bridge and into River Heights before being shot while fleeing on foot in the early hours of July 16, 2007.
But Joyal said if they believed the two officers, or didn’t think the Crown had proven its case, they had to render verdicts of not guilty. Court was told Fournier was shot after he was able to get Overwater’s gun during a struggle and pointed it at Selley.
Winnipeg police could not be reached for comment following the verdicts.
But police sources say on the night of the shooting there were doubts about the officers’ story almost from the beginning.
"Anybody who’s been more than five years on the job would look at this and know it didn’t smell right," one officer told the Free Press.
Doubt about Selley’s and Overwater’s claims that Fournier had grabbed Overwater’s sidearm during a brief struggle, and questions about how the scene on Lindsay Street was supervised in the minutes following the shooting, prompted an internal investigation led by two officers within the professional standards unit.
That investigation was kept confidential. Two years later, it resulted in charges being laid against Selley and Overwater, as well as their suspensions from the force. Until then, they had both been assigned to desk duty.
There were questions raised about the pace of the internal investigation against Selley and Overwater because police brass wanted it resolved more quickly, one source said.
"There was some foot-dragging," he said. "It was felt some people there at the time didn’t push the investigation."
A second source also said police superiors questioned the two officers’ version of events within hours.
"To anyone at that time, they said, ‘this stinks,’ " he said.
In response to the verdict — that the Crown couldn’t prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt — the source said: "The hardest conviction to get is against a serving police officer in the execution of his duty."