A Winnipeg police officer who seized a camera from a photojournalist gave a vastly different account of their confrontation at a crime scene in 2017 that’s the subject of a rare Law Enforcement Review Agency hearing.
The 41-year-old patrol sergeant, who was a constable at the time, testified Thursday Winnipeg Sun photographer Chris Procaylo was combative and had refused to give his press affiliation.
The civilian oversight hearing will determine whether the officer, whose name is protected under a publication ban, acted improperly when he seized Procaylo’s camera without a warrant near Lord Selkirk Furniture at 853 Main St. after police had arrested a knife-wielding male suspect on Dec. 2, 2017.
On Thursday, the officer disputed Procaylo’s claim that he had sworn or yelled at him.
When asked by his lawyer, Josh Weinstein, whether he had tried to headbutt the photographer, the officer replied "that’s ridiculous."
The officer said he arrived to a "chaotic scene with a number of emergency vehicles" at 11:48 a.m., and then saw Procaylo, 51, snapping pictures.
He testified he asked Procaylo to move away from between two parked cars near the front of the store. The officer wanted him farther away from the active scene. After he asked a second time, he said Procaylo moved, but not in the direction he had indicated.
He said he told Procaylo to move a third time, at which point the photographer "walked slowly" past the window of the business and took bursts of photographs.
Procaylo testified Wednesday that he had compiled with all of the officer’s instructions to move."
The officer told the hearing he cautioned Procaylo that he could be charged with obstructing justice. Earlier this week, Procaylo testified he was not told he could be charged.
The officer testified he seized the camera to secure evidence of the incident.
At the time, police said the suspect, who was in his 30s, had been disarmed by bystanders. They said officers had subdued him, but he had a medical emergency and was taken to hospital in critical condition.
On Thursday, the officer revealed the suspect had died.
He testified he took Procaylo’s camera because the photos were potential evidence. He noted there was the likelihood of an investigation by the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba because the man was being taken into custody at the time of his death.
The camera was later returned to Procaylo without having been searched.
The officer said Procaylo had been unco-operative by refusing to say whether he had been there prior to police arriving.
He had been told Procaylo got there before officers and might have photos of one of two suspects who had chased the knife-brandishing man from the Northern Hotel, which is across the street.
The police officer said if Procaylo had co-operated, they would’ve exchanged contact information to discuss the photographs later.
The 18-year veteran officer also testified Procaylo only identified himself as a member of the media after his camera had been seized.
That’s in contrast to Procaylo’s testimony that he had identified himself immediately.
The patrol sergeant testified it was the photographer who was confrontational; he said Procaylo espoused an ideology consistent with the legal concept of "freemen on the land" by saying he didn’t believe police and other government officials are legitimate authorities.
Procaylo’s lawyer, Nicole Watson, objected to the officer’s testimony that his partner had been within earshot of the two men.
The photographer was further cross-examined Thursday. Procaylo testified he only saw the officer’s partner near the cruiser car at the time his camera was seized.
The officer will be cross-examined Friday. His partner is expected to testify.
Erik Pindera reports for the city desk, with a particular focus on crime and justice.