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N.S. man's arrest 'unnecessary' but likely not motivated by race: police board

·3 min read

HALIFAX — The Nova Scotia Police Review Board has ruled that an officer acted stubbornly and unnecessarily but was likely not motivated by race when he arrested a Black man and his wife who were in a park after hours in 2018.

Adam LeRue and Kerry Morris had filed a complaint against two Halifax police officers, alleging race played a role in LeRue being arrested and jailed after the couple stopped in the park to make a phone call.

In a decision issued June 18, the board found that Const. Kenneth O'Brien, the first officer on the scene, had repeatedly failed to exercise discretion and de-escalate the situation after he had stopped LeRue and Morris for being in the park after 10 p.m.

The report noted that such an offence would not generally even warrant a ticket, but O'Brien chose to escalate the situation when he and his fellow officer forcibly removed Morris from the car, arrested LeRue on a charge of obstruction and conducted a full search of their vehicle.

While the board was critical of O'Brien's actions, it accepted the officer's claim that he had not perceived LeRue as Black or had been motivated by race.

Instead, the board found that O'Brien had likely been angered by the couple's refusal to show ID, which the board said led the officer to "stubbornly and unnecessarily" exercise what he saw as his authority.

"While it was possible that Const. O’Brien’s conduct was triggered by race, it is more likely that it was triggered by the questioning of his authority to request ID, and the request to speak to a supervisor," the board found.

The board concluded that O'Brien violated two articles of the police code of conduct, including one that refers to "acting in a disorderly manner or in a manner that is reasonably likely to bring discredit on the reputation of the police department." A hearing will be held at a later time to determine what penalty he could face.

The board dismissed the allegations against the second officer, Brent Woodworth, concluding he acted largely on O'Brien's instructions and according to police training.

Lawyers for Woodworth and O'Brien had argued the case was about LeRue's and Morris's failure to answer simple questions and obey police commands rather than about alleged systemic racism in the police department.

But while accepting that the arrest was not necessarily motivated by racial profiling, the board repeatedly found that O'Brien had failed to show he had "good or sufficient cause" when he searched the car and arrested LeRue on a charge of obstruction of justice.

"Even if lawful, it can hardly be seen as a reasonable exercise of discretion to apply such a charge in a situation where the 'evil' done by Mr. LeRue was sitting in a parking lot, talking on the phone, while his wife ate pizza," the board wrote.

The board also did not believe O'Brien's testimony that he decided to search the vehicle after smelling marijuana, or that Morris, who is about five feet tall, had been removed from vehicle over concerns over officer safety.

It noted that while LeRue had been "verbally noncompliant" when asked for ID, neither he nor his wife had given any sign that they were physically aggressive.

"At best, it was an unnecessary arrest and an unnecessary search," the board wrote.

LeRue said during testimony last fall that the obstruction of justice charge laid against him was resolved through a restorative justice program. The ticket for being in a park after hours was dropped by the Crown, LeRue said, adding that he had paid a fine for the ticket he had received under the Motor Vehicle Act for failing to provide the officer his driver's licence.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 21, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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