Judge lam­bastes po­lice in drug trial

Ac­cused ac­quit­ted due to ques­tion­able ev­i­dence, il­le­gal strip search

The Welland Tribune - - Front Page - BILL SAWCHUK

A judge had some scathing words for the Ni­a­gara Re­gional Po­lice as a case against a sus­pected mo­bile drug traf­ficker fell apart re­cently in an On­tario Court of Jus­tice cour­toom in St. Catharines.

First, Judge Peter Wilkie ruled a strip search per­formed by Ni­a­gara Re­gional Po­lice had “de­lib­er­ately and bla­tantly vi­o­lated” the sus­pect’s char­ter pri­vacy rights be­fore adding that the of­fi­cers had “dis­played a shock­ing in­dif­fer­ence to, or ig­no­rance of, wellestab­lished con­sti­tu­tional norms.”

Wilkie then ex­cluded the key ev­i­dence against the sus­pect, a bag of crack co­caine.

In his writ­ten de­ci­sion, the judge ruled that not only had the ev­i­dence been un­cov­ered dur­ing the un­con­sti­tu­tional strip search, it was also in­ad­mis­si­ble be­cause “there was noth­ing close to a doc­u­mented chain of cus­tody” for the drugs, though he stopped short of say­ing it had been planted.

Wilkie also found the tes­ti­mony by a string of of­fi­cers rid­dled with “de­fi­cien­cies, omis­sions and con­tra­dic­tions.”

It all added up to an ac­quit­tal for Ja­mal Har­ri­son, 33, on a charge of co­caine possession for the pur­poses of traf­fick­ing.

Har­ri­son, a res­i­dent of Bar­ba­dos, was liv­ing in Thorold at the time of his ar­rest on June 17, 2015.

The ar­rest was the re­sult of in­for­ma­tion from a con­fi­den­tial informant and sur­veil­lance, in which po­lice said they ob­served mul­ti­ple, mo­bile drug trans­ac­tions through­out Ni­a­gara.

Har­ri­son was trav­el­ling with two other men in a car when he was taken down by the po­lice. A frisk of his body and a search of the ve­hi­cle came up empty, and he was taken to the po­lice sta­tion while other of­fi­cers ex­e­cuted a search war­rant at his home. That search came up empty as well.

The strip search took place at the sta­tion while Har­ri­son was be­ing booked. An of­fi­cer tes­ti­fied some “con­tra­band” wrapped in plas­tic fell to the floor af­ter Har­ri­son’s pants and un­der­wear were re­moved and shaken.

Wilkie said strip searches are in­her­ently de­grad­ing and hu­mil­i­at­ing and need to be han­dled with care and re­spect for char­ter lim­i­ta­tions. He crit­i­cized the po­lice for car­ry­ing out the search in a hall­way just out­side the book­ing area.

It was an area that af­forded the sus­pect lit­tle to no pri­vacy and the door was left open, al­low­ing oth­ers to look in or en­ter the area. One of­fi­cer, who wasn’t in­volved, wan­dered in just to see what was go­ing on.

“But that is not all,” the judge said. “The hall­way was un­der video sur-

veil­lance and the search was live streamed as one of a num­ber of images pro­jected onto three mon­i­tors in the book­ing area where two fe­male of­fi­cers were work­ing that evening.

“The re­sult is that the search was broad­cast to other ar­eas of the po­lice fa­cil­ity so that any num­ber of of­fi­cers or civil­ian per­son­nel could have watched some or all of the en­tire search process.”

The judge said the ev­i­dence sug­gested that what took place was stan­dard prac­tice at the sta­tion and re­mained so until the fall of 2017 when a new po­lice sta­tion was built.

Defence lawyer Bobbi Walker was es­pe­cially suc­cess­ful in dis­sect­ing the lapses in the chain of cus­tody of the drugs. Wilkie said he was left with sig­nif­i­cant doubt that the plas­tic bag and con­tents that came from Har­ri­son’s cloth­ing was, in fact, the same sub­stance that was sent to the lab for anal­y­sis by the po­lice.

The ini­tial prob­lem with the chain of cus­tody is that the spe­cial con­sta­ble who picked up the plas­tic bag dur­ing the strip search had no rec­ol­lec­tion that he seized the drugs, had no notes about do­ing so and was un­able to tell the court what he did with them.

The spe­cial con­sta­ble tes­ti­fied he “as­sumed” that he would have left the search area and handed the pack­age to the book­ing sergeant. How­ever, the book­ing sergeant tes­ti­fied she never dealt with the con­tra­band.

An­other of­fi­cer ended up with the ev­i­dence and was told to drive it to an of­fice in Thorold on Al­len­burg Road, where the in­ves­ti­ga­tors on the case were work­ing.

How­ever, the de­tec­tive who re­ceived the ev­i­dence in Thorold tes­ti­fied he re­ceived the ev­i­dence at Har­ri­son’s res­i­dence, not the of­fice in Al­len­burg.

Wilkie said the prob­lems with the chain of cus­tody took on even more sig­nif­i­cance be­cause the de­scrip­tion of the drugs seized from the ac­cused was com­pletely dif­fer­ent from what was sent to be an­a­lyzed. One of­fi­cer said the bag con­tained white pow­der. Oth­ers said it con­tained a se­ries of in­di­vid­u­ally wrapped brown­ish grey pel­lets of crack co­caine.

On Wed­nes­day, Jus­tice Fer­gus O’Don­nell dis­missed drug traf­fick­ing charges against Den­mare Gal­limore, 20, of Mis­sis­sauga, and Alton John­ston, 23, of Bramp­ton, who were ar­rested in Jan­uary 2016. O’Don­nell, too, said Ni­a­gara Re­gional Po­lice vi­o­lated their rights when they were sub­jected to an il­le­gal strip search.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.