July 20, 2018

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'I am innocent of any wrongdoing'

Coun. Russ Wyatt accused of sexual assault

Longtime Winnipeg city Coun. Russ Wyatt says he is "innocent of any wrongdoing," and awaits the opportunity to defend himself in court against charges of sexual assault.

The Transcona councillor was arrested and charged Tuesday, accused of attacking a woman in a Winnipeg home six months ago, police announced Wednesday.

“I have no comment to make regarding the allegation against me, other than to say that I am innocent of any wrongdoing. I will defend myself in a court of law and will only respond further to the allegation in a court room,” Wyatt told the Free Press in a written statement Wednesday evening. He directed further requests for comment to his lawyer, Evan Roitenberg.

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Longtime Winnipeg city Coun. Russ Wyatt says he is "innocent of any wrongdoing," and awaits the opportunity to defend himself in court against charges of sexual assault.

The Transcona councillor was arrested and charged Tuesday, accused of attacking a woman in a Winnipeg home six months ago, police announced Wednesday.

"I have no comment to make regarding the allegation against me, other than to say that I am innocent of any wrongdoing. I will defend myself in a court of law and will only respond further to the allegation in a court room," Wyatt told the Free Press in a written statement Wednesday evening. He directed further requests for comment to his lawyer, Evan Roitenberg.

Tumultuous 2018

Jan. 14 – A woman accuses Coun. Russ Wyatt of sexual assault, and the Winnipeg Police Service begins an investigation. Wyatt is interviewed, and made aware of the allegation.

Jan. 25 – Wyatt requests a leave of absence from his duties as a city councillor. City of Winnipeg officials later say he’s dealing with a personal family matter.

March 23 – The Free Press reveals Wyatt is in rehab for alcoholism and drug abuse at the Aurora Recovery Centre in Gimli.

May 24 – Wyatt returns to work at city hall, saying his time in rehab was life-changing and he’s returning with a new-found outlook on life.

June 4 – While attending the Winnipeg Pride parade, Wyatt comes out as bisexual, saying he’s been living a double life.

June 21 – Wyatt announces he will not seek re-election in the civic election in October. However, he soon begins backpedalling, indicating his political future remains undecided. He sets up a Twitter account and begins publicly mulling a bid for mayor.

July 10 – Police arrest Wyatt and charge him with sexual assault. He’s released on a promise to appear.

July 11 – Winnipeg police announce Wyatt’s arrest at a news conference

The Winnipeg Police Service said general patrol officers responded Jan. 14 to a report of a "serious sexual assault," a term police use to refer to attacks consistent with rape. Sex crimes investigators quickly took over the case, police said.

Wyatt, 48, was interviewed soon after the alleged attack. If convicted, he could face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Wyatt’s arrest Tuesday came hours after police received lab results connected to the investigation, WPS Const. Rob Carver told reporters. He said investigators did not handle the case differently because the suspect was an elected official.

"The delay in sexual-assault charges is almost always on getting lab results back. DNA evidence has to be sent out to the RCMP. The sending of the samples... is absolutely standard protocol in this type of investigation. We can’t move forward until we get those results back," Carver said.

"I’m not indicating... whether those results were instrumental in laying the charge. What I’m telling you is we can’t move forward until those lab results are returned. They were returned yesterday (Tuesday), and we felt that was the time we could move with the arrest."

The alleged victim is a woman known to Wyatt, but is reportedly not his wife and isn’t believed to be a City of Winnipeg employee. While the location of the alleged attack wasn’t provided, police said it is not Wyatt’s home.

<p>Winnipeg City Councillor for Transcona Russ Wyatt.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg City Councillor for Transcona Russ Wyatt.

When asked if drugs or alcohol were believed to be a factor in the alleged attack, Carver declined comment.

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said he was "shocked" when he heard news of Wyatt’s arrest Wednesday morning, adding he had no prior knowledge of the police investigation.

"As elected officials, we are expected to perform our duties of office honestly and with integrity, and to manage our behaviour in a manner that promotes public confidence and trust," Bowman said.

"A criminal sexual-assault charge, on its face value, even before it’s adjudicated by the courts, can represent by many people a significant breach of trust — and I can certainly sympathize with many people... struggling to process and make sense of today’s news."

When asked if Wyatt would be welcomed back on council, Bowman was evasive, saying, "the charges are very serious."

"He's an elected official. I’m not sure what his next steps are," Bowman said.

According to the City of Winnipeg charter, it appears Wyatt’s arrest will only result in his removal from council if he’s convicted and sentenced to five or more years in prison or if he’s convicted of any offence involving breach of trust, bribery or influence peddling. He could also be removed if he fails to attend the next three council meetings without authorized absences. The next council meeting is July 19.

Wyatt, who was first elected in 2002, did not respond to a text message from the Free Press asking if he planned to step down from council.

The news is the latest bombshell development in what’s been a tumultuous year for the city hall veteran.

Not the first Winnipeg city councillor charged

Coun. Russ Wyatt (Transcona) isn’t the first Winnipeg city councillor to deal with criminal charges while in office. At least two others also carry that distinction:

In April 2000, then-city councillor Al Golden was convicted of income-tax evasion. A Court of Queen’s Bench jury declared him guilty of two counts of evasion, for failing to declare nearly $1 million in business income between 1989 and 1991.

In May 2014, an investigation was opened into allegations former Winnipeg Jets player and then-councillor Thomas Steen had uttered threats and committed an assault. Steen took a leave of absence from council and was suspended from his duties with the Winnipeg Police Board. The charges were stayed in June 2016.

Not long after the police investigation began into the allegations, Wyatt disappeared from the public eye. He was not seen at city hall after Jan. 25, and it was later revealed he requested a leave of absence for what city officials described as a personal family matter.

In March, the Free Press revealed Wyatt was in rehab, seeking treatment for alcoholism and drug abuse at the Aurora Recovery Centre in Gimli.

At the time, in an exclusive letter to the Free Press, Wyatt said he’d been battling depression for a number of years, which led him down a path of "addiction to alcohol and a substance-use disorder."

Wyatt said his personal struggle had spiralled.

"With a family and as a father, I knew I couldn’t go on and I had to make a change in my life. I want to live life to the fullest and to be the best father I can be," he wrote in the letter, which the Free Press published in its entirety, at his request. "Because of that, at this time, I must focus on my recovery."

A noticeably thinner Wyatt returned to city hall in May, and, speaking from the floor of council, said he had a new outlook on life.

In June, at the Winnipeg Pride festival, Wyatt came out as bisexual, saying he’d been living a double life.

Wyatt recently announced he wouldn’t be seeking re-election in October, however, he subsequently mulled a run for the mayor's job.

His Twitter account was deactivated as of Wednesday morning.

When asked whether Wyatt is the subject of any other ongoing police investigations, Carver told the Free Press: "I can tell you this office is not aware of any."

— with files from Aldo Santin

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
Reporter

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.

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History

Updated on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 at 8:02 PM CDT: Fixes typos

11:02 PM: updates story

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