Thursday 18 November 2010

The police strip search of the young woman was a travesty

Recently I have been writing articles in this blog about bad cops. I don’t want my readers to think that I hate cops because for the most part, I don’t. I have met many fine cops over the years who do excellent work helping citizens but I have also seen some really bad ones who should never have been hired as police officers. What follows is a story about some real assholes in the Ottawa Police Force who brought shame on the police force that hired them.

Stacy Bonds, a young cute black 27-year-old woman was walking alone on a sidewalk on Rideau Street in Ottawa, the capital of Canada on September 26th, 2008. At that same time, a police cruiser carrying several police officers in it pulled up along the sidewalk and stopped the young woman for no apparent reason.

If she was a motorist driving on a street, the law permits police officers in Canada to randomly stop motorists at any time to see if they are impaired. Now you might wonder why police officers stop pedestrians on the street who don’t appear to be doing anything wrong. Who knows what motivates them to do this. I suppose if they thought a pedestrian looked like a robber who just committed a crime; they have the right to stop him or her and question that person. That happened to me many years ago. When the police realized that I wasn’t the robber they were looking for, they apologized to me, got back into their cruiser and began their search for the robber again.

The police in this story asked the young woman where she was going and she told them that she was going home. The police then ran her name through their computer in their cruiser and since nothing came up, they told her she could continue walking home.

Aside from not having the right to stop her in the first place, it begs the question why they suddenly felt that they should run a police check on her since they really had no reason to suspect that she had committed a crime or was on a wanted list. Was it because she was a young black woman? Would they have done the same thing to a young white woman?

Now it is easy to see why she was annoyed at being stopped and questioned by the police officers when there wasn’t any explanation given to her for their intrusion into her privacy.

So after a few steps, she turned back and asked the officers why they had bothered to stop her in the first place. That question was a reasonable one. But when you are confronted by police officers who are also assholes, by asking them that question, you are walking into quicksand. It was then that things took a rapid turn. Brace yourself for it. Here it comes. Constable Flores, a trainee, arrested her for public intoxication, but that arrest, according to a judge’s ruling who later heard the case at her trial; was unlawful because she was not drunk — not even close to being drunk.

But being wrongfully charged with a crime she hadn’t committed was bad enough but what happened to her when she resisted (which was her right) being unlawfully searched by those goons in the police station.

While she was in the station’s booking room, she resisted having her bra and shirt cut from her with a pair of scissors when she resisted being strip searched by Sgt. Steve Desjourdy (in charge of the search and who was a male police officer) in the presence of other male police officers. She was also assaulted by Special Constable Melanie Morris who submitted her to two extremely violent knee hits in her back along with pulling her hair. Aside from doing serious injury to a person’s spine, such an assault can also fracture a person’s ribs. In either case, it can be very painful and in this case it was.

Let’s not forget that their prisoner was not a robber whom they were searching for a weapon they thought a robber may have on his or her body. She was an innocent woman who had been wrongfully arrested. They were cutting off her bra and shirt because she refused to take off all of her clothes in front of male police officers.

Strip searching a prisoner by and in front of police officers of the opposite sex is absolutely frowned upon in police forces in Canada (the Supreme Court of Canada has condemned it also) but alas it is sometimes done. Years ago when I was practicing law, a male client of mine was strip searched in a police station by two male police officers while female police officers were walking by. We sued the police department for this and they settled out of court by paying my client $2,000.

When the police officers in the Ottawa station were finished with performing indignity against this unfortunate woman, their young prisoner was placed in a cell without her shoes and wearing her pants only; pants that had become soiled with feces or urine while she was being assaulted. She remained there for three hours with nothing to cover the upper part of her body. This is the treatment that a young black woman who had committed no crime and had no criminal record was subjected to by police officers whose police force’s motto is ‘to protect and serve’.

Fortunately, a police station videotape had captured the events involving the strip search and assault of the victim.

The trial judge (Mr. Justice Lajoie) hearing her case made an oral ruling on October 27th, deciding to stay a charge against Bonds of assaulting police. In his ruling, the judge severely criticized the officers’ actions, saying “there is no reasonable explanation for Sgt. Desjourdy to have cut Ms. Bonds’ shirt and bra off, and there is no reason, apart from vengeance and malice, to have left Ms. Bonds in the cell for a period of three hours and 15 minutes partially clad and having soiled her pants, before she received what is called a blue suit. That is an indignity towards a human being and should be denounced.”

The judge also noted that the video showed that when the police brought their prisoner into the Booking room, she showed “no hint of violence and no hint of being aggressive.” He described her as being “co-operative.”

The judge said he was “appalled” that the strip search of the woman took place in the presence of at least three male police officers. “It is quite evident that none of these officers have received gender training, and that they do give only lip service to female dignity and privacy.”

She said at her trial, “I wasn’t bothering anyone. I was on my way home, walking, not driving, from an after-hours party. I wasn’t bothering anyone and the police had no reason to bother me. “I was verbally and mentally raped.”

The judge said “There was certainly no evidence that Ms. Bonds was a threat to herself or anyone else. Constable Flores clearly did not have reasonable and probable grounds to effect the arrest.” He then added, “Therefore, if the arrest is unlawful, the subsequent detention can only be an arbitrary detention, and a clear violation of Section 9 of the Charter.”

The judge said that the video tape showed that during the initial part of the police search, “Someone has a hand inside Ms. Bonds’ pants, down around her upper leg or hip area. We can see the formation of a fist or hand inside her tight white pants."

The judge added, "That is why videos have become so important. They provide us with these extra details that put meat to simple words that are spoken by witnesses.”

Once Bonds was taken out of the cruiser at police headquarters on Elgin Street, the judge noted after reviewing the videotape he concluded that “she was anything but violent or aggressive.”

The judge then said, “And it is at that point that Sgt. Desjourdy tells us that he saw Ms. Bonds’ mule-kick Special Constable Morris. Ms. Bonds is immediately taken to the ground, and is not resisting with hands flailing or feet flailing, as testified to by both Special Const. Morris and Sgt. Desjourdy.”

This means that both police officers were lying in court.

The judge then added, “The officers have (now) tried to justify their actions on the principles of safety, officer safety and accused’s safety, as well as risk of suicide. No inquiry whatsoever was made by the officers prior to their taking action, and that is a common trait that we too often see in the recent past with the influx of a multitude of new (police) recruits, who are often trained by other officers who have one, two, maybe three years of experience.”

Years ago a member of the Complaints Bureau of the Peel Regional Police Force, while in my office, told me that many young police officers are a pain in the ass. ‘They have no concept of what is right and what is wrong while acting as police officers.’ I can only attribute that to bad training or poor evaluation of applicants or trainees.

It is quite clear that the Ottawa Police has not been made aware of or is lending a blind eye with respect to the recommendations of the Supreme Court of Canada when it gave its ruling about strip searches.

The judge ruled that the strip search of Bonds was an “extremely serious breach of (her) rights, apart from it being unlawful.” The judge then stayed the charge against Bonds, saying he didn’t want to be part of the “travesty.”

He then said, “With the sheer number of appalling behaviours which I have noted, it is quite clear that the only possible outcome, and fair outcome … is one of a stay of proceedings, because as alluded to by defence lawyer Matt Webber, it would be a travesty to permit these proceedings to go on. And I certainly would not be a party to such an action.”

Desjourdy, who cut off Bonds’ shirt and bra, told the Ottawa Citizen that he can’t discuss the case because it’s under review by his superiors.

The young victim said after the trial, “From the get-go, I knew I was getting screwed. It was disgraceful.” Webber said his client suffered a ‘horrifying’ ordeal and her confidence in law enforcement has been shaken. “It’s an appalling example of abuse of power and misconduct on the part of the police. It’s a complete disregard for her dignity. It’s shocking.”

Ottawa Police Chief Vern White said in November 2010, that the force has launched an internal investigation into the case. He said candidly, “If the judge’s ruling is indicative of what happened, it’s appalling. I look forward to a swift conclusion to our investigation. Professional Standards (internal affairs) takes this very seriously, as do I.”

The internal investigation could take months and will include a review of the images captured on videotape.

It’s not the first time the goon, Sgt. Desjourdy has been under investigation. Days before this 2008 case, he kicked and Tasered a female prisoner in the cell block twice. In 2009, he pleaded guilty under the Police Act and was demoted for three months from sergeant to constable. He should be dismissed from the police force.

Bonds said she is now thinking about launching a lawsuit against the Ottawa Police. I hope she does and seeks damages that not only will compensate her for the treatment she got from the police goons who mistreated her, but gets the message across to police goons that their behaviour is frowned upon. Unfortunately, it is the hapless taxpayers that end up paying the damages caused by police goons who shouldn’t be in any police forces at all.

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