Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Police raid heavy-handed? Jury to decide

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Was it acceptable police procedure or a needless, knee-jerk response?

That's the question facing a Winnipeg jury in a unique civil court case involving a dramatic drug raid now under a legal microscope.

Lawyers are expected to make final arguments today before a panel of six citizens begin weighing the evidence in order to deliver a verdict. Unlike a criminal trial, jurors don't have to be unanimous. But at least five of the six must agree.

There is plenty at stake, not only in the specific case before the courts, but also the potential impact this case might have on police operations. If the claim filed against Winnipeg police is a success, that could open the door to others who feel they've been wronged in a similar fashion.

Gerilyn Riedle, 52, has sued police for damages, claiming she's the victim of malicious arrest, false imprisonment and defamation of character.

There's no disputing the fact heavily armed members of the tactical unit burst into her home, ordered her to the ground at gunpoint and hauled her out of the residence in handcuffs -- despite not being accused or charged with any crime.

Riedle's lawyer claims it was an over-the-top spectacle that ought to result in financial damages being awarded to his client, who has no prior criminal record and has spent more than 30 years as a legal assistant at various city firms and the provincial prosecutions office.

Riedle's 19-year-old son was the target, as police received a tip he was dealing marijuana out of their East Kildonan home. A provincial magistrate had authorized police to do a "dynamic" entry, which included setting off a flash bomb, breaking down the door and arresting everyone inside.

It was only a few hours later, once the proverbial smoke had cleared, that Riedle was released from custody and allowed to return home. Her son took responsibility for the 18 grams of marijuana and other paraphernalia found in his bedroom.

Despite being cleared of any wrongdoing, Riedle claims the damage was already done -- both to her property and her reputation, which forced her to move from the neighbourhood out of "humiliation."

Officers involved in the 2009 incident testified last week, telling jurors what happened to Riedle is an unfortunate necessity of the job and sometimes innocent people will get caught in their web.

They said all proper procedures were followed and officers acted as prescribed by both the law and their extensive training. That included some surveillance of the Riedle home to ensure there were no children, pregnant women or elderly folks inside.

If that were the case, police would have used less intrusive methods.

Once it was determined the young target, his girlfriend and Riedle were the only ones present, police utilized the authorization they had from the courts to burst inside and quickly take control of the situation by neutralizing any potential threats.

Police claim these types of tactics are needed during drug investigations because they often encounter members of organized crime, weapons and offenders who will do almost anything to escape arrest.

Now it will be up to the jury to decide.

www.mikeoncrime.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 1, 2013 A5

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