Sun photographer ‘intimidated’ by officer, hearing told

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A Winnipeg police officer’s decision to seize a news photographer’s camera is under scrutiny at a public hearing in a case that challenges police conduct and freedom of the press.

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A Winnipeg police officer’s decision to seize a news photographer’s camera is under scrutiny at a public hearing in a case that challenges police conduct and freedom of the press.

A Law Enforcement Review Agency hearing began on Tuesday to examine the conduct of an officer who took a Winnipeg Sun camera without a warrant at the scene of an emergency five years ago.

The civilian oversight hearing will determine whether the officer, whose name is protected under a publication ban, acted improperly. If there is a disciplinary finding, the publication ban on the officer’s identity is expected to be lifted in accordance with provincial law.

BORIS MINKEVICH / FREE PRESS FILES Chris Procaylo

Winnipeg Sun photojournalist Chris Procaylo filed a complaint against the Winnipeg Police Service officer after his camera was seized and put into the trunk of a police cruiser on Dec. 2, 2017.

Procaylo said he felt “intimidated” by the officer and was prevented from doing his job, which his lawyer Nicole Watson argues was in violation of his charter rights.

“I felt disappointed, I felt threatened, and I felt intimidated. And I felt like I was being prevented from doing my job,” Procaylo testified.

The officer is accused of abusing his authority in three ways: by conducting an unreasonable seizure, by using abusive or oppressive language or behaviour, and by being “discourteous and uncivil.”

Procaylo testified he had received a tip about a “ruckus” in the 800 block of Main Street downtown.

He was told someone had a weapon. When he arrived, Procaylo said he saw some officers tending to an injured man inside a business while onlookers gathered around.

He testified he was wearing his identification on a lanyard and had moved back to the curb to be out of the way while he took photos with a telephoto lens.

While there were a couple of police vehicles, there was no large first-responder presence when he arrived and no police tape was up, Procaylo testified.

He said he watched fire-paramedic personnel arrive and prepare to put the injured man into an ambulance.

Before that happened, he said more police officers arrived and a member of the general patrol unit started yelling at him to move and “f—-k off.”

Procaylo testified the officer swore and told him they didn’t need any pictures and “don’t need you distorting.”

Procaylo moved, but he said the officer repeatedly shouted at him and then got up “in my personal space.”

They had a “hostile” exchange in which Procaylo said the officer told Procaylo that by taking photos, he was taking advantage of a person in medical distress, and repeatedly asked him “why do you hate police?”

The conversation had a bullying tone, Procaylo said.

“The easy thing to do is get in the car and drive away, but I can’t do that, because I have to stay and document. I’m serving the public, I’m not leaving,” Procaylo later continued, saying he “resolved to stay” at the scene.

A short while later, in Procaylo’s account, the officer returned, “smiling broadly,” and informed him the WPS was seizing his camera equipment “as part of our investigation,” sarcastically telling him the investigation could take a while.

Procaylo said he handed over his camera and identification because he believed if he didn’t, it would be forcibly taken from him. As the officer turned away with the camera strap slung over his shoulder, Procaylo said he called after him.

“I said, ‘hey listen, you’ve taken my camera, you’re going to have to take responsibility for it.’”

The police service returned the camera to the Winnipeg Sun later that day and apologized during a subsequent news conference.

The officer is expected to testify later in the hearing, which is being presided over by provincial court judge Tony Cellitti.

For much of the hearing Tuesday afternoon, lawyers on both sides argued over the admissibility of post-incident newspaper coverage that quoted WPS Const. Rob Carver as saying proper police policies weren’t followed.

Carver went on to say, as per Free Press coverage of the incident, that under proper procedure, Procaylo could have been arrested for “obstruction.”

The officer’s lawyer, Josh Weinstein, is expected to make arguments related to obstruction of police work.

Less than three per cent of LERA complaints get to the hearing stage.

katie.may@winnipegfreepress.com

Katie May

Katie May
Reporter

Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.

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