(This column was published in the North Shore News on Feb. 17, 1999)

 

Uncertainty cast over actions in arrests

By Leo Knight

WHEN provincial court Judge R. Miller pronounced a not guilty verdict last week against the three Vancouver police officers charged with assault emanating from the now infamous arrest of the hulking David Davidson at the Roxy nightclub in August 1997, the courtroom erupted with the cheers of fellow officers sitting in the gallery.  

 

But before the cheers had subsided, Miller pronounced one of the officers, Constable Brad Brewer, guilty of a separate but related assault. The mystifying decision has the potential to affect every police officer in the province who has to be physically involved arresting a suspect.  

 

The three officers have been through a year of hell, their own version of the Queen's annus horribilus. It started a year ago, almost to the day, when Vancouver Police Department Chief Constable Bruce Chambers arbitrarily announced the suspension of the officers before the Crown had even decided on whether charges should be laid.  

 

The resulting outcry from the rank and file forced the chief to reconsider his ill-conceived move and he reinstated the officers, albeit to administrative duties, not on the street where they had served the community for a combined almost 40 years.  

 

The chief's ham-fisted handling of the situation resulted in an unprecedented show of disrespect for the office of the Chief Constable and triggered a morale issue that festers to this day.  

 

In what can only be described as a face-saving move, the "Roxy Three" were charged criminally before the file had even made its way through the checks and balances in the system. This, despite the fact there were no credible witnesses supporting the assault allegations and a myriad of witnesses, both police and civilian, supporting the officers' version of events.  

 

The primary witness against the officers was one of their own, a female officer then known as Constable Kate Yeo.  

 

Yeo, who later changed her name to Caprari, initially described Davidson as "a violent animal." Strong words, but seemingly appropriate when the scope of his behaviour that night is looked at.  

 

Unfortunately, under oath, she changed her mind and stated those words were an "embellishment." Indeed.  

 

During the lengthy internal investigation she changed her version of events on several occasions, seemingly unable to get it exactly right.  

 

But throughout, she maintained that constables Brewer, Keiron McConnell and Acting Sergeant Rod Pederson, brutally kicked Davidson while he was handcuffed and being dragged to the paddy wagon.  

 

In reality, of the three, only Pederson was "hands on" with the hulking, juiced-up biker wannabee. To prove their innocence, both McConnell and Brewer took polygraph exams and passed. Yet, despite this and the fact there was no corroboration, they were still charged.  

 

In Brewer's case, while he was supposedly putting the boot into Davidson, he was actually dealing with a bystander, Michael Dowler, who had seen fit to get into a scuffle with a bouncer at the Roxy while the police were trying to deal with the initial problem.  

 

Dowler declined to take Brewer's advice to leave well enough alone and depart lest he be arrested for obstruction. While he was being searched, he spun around on Brewer who had placed him in the search position -- with both arms outstretched on the same paddy wagon Davidson was being loaded into on the far side.  

 

Brewer reacted in the way he had been trained. He grabbed Dowler by the throat and pushed him back against the wagon and got control of the young rowdy. He spun him around and completed searching and handcuffing his prisoner.  

 

Dowler, for his part, got very contrite and begged not to be sent to jail, spoiling his otherwise clean record.  

 

Brewer then made his first mistake. He took pity on Dowler and ordered the wagon driver to simply remove him from the area and release him without charge.  

 

Had Brewer followed through with the charging of Dowler, doubtless he would not be in the situation he finds himself in today. So much for having a heart.  

 

Now, Dowler, it should be told, was very grateful for the break Brewer gave him. He did not initiate any complaint. Rather, he was contacted by internal investigators and pushed into making his statement.  

 

Brewer never hid or in any way tried to cover up what had occurred with Dowler. He truly believed he had done everything by the book. In fact he was backed up by the department's own use of force expert.  

 

Sergeant Joel Johnson testified it "was a natural transition of prisoner spins to gain control of the prisoner." He explained the hold used by Brewer was not only appropriate, but was a training move.  

 

Yet, Brewer was found guilty by Judge Miller.  

 

Miller gave a 10-page written decision. He decided, somehow, that Caprari was being truthful and courageous.

 

This might be true if this was a "Serpico" type situation -- honest cop fighting against corruption and running against the Blue Wall of Silence.  

 

But not in this case. She probably believes what she says and thinks she saw.  

 

But there is a mountain of evidence and witness testimony that says she is wrong.  

 

Caprari herself is a tragic figure.  

 

She lost an eye in a duty-related incident when she was kicked by a prisoner. She underwent considerable therapy and, in my view, should not have been put back into a high-stress environment, like patrol, again. Her subsequent history has been rather checkered and, I believe, is directly related to the loss of her eye.  

 

Largely, it seems it is because of her tragic history that Miller supported her in the way he did. He couldn't convict the "Roxy Three" with all the evidence to the contrary. So he took the path of least resistance and potted Brewer on the Dowler incident.  

 

Unfortunately the message that sends is wrong and dangerous. Every time a cop makes an arrest and the suspect resists, the officer will have to decide whether to react.  

 

This indecision could result in a police officer getting needlessly hurt.  

 

The "Roxy Three" arrived home to find phone messages from personnel Sergeant Val Harrison, offering them reinstatement to any patrol position of their choice.  

 

She said she had been authorized by the chief to make the offer.  

 

Interestingly enough, sources tell me, all three declined.  

 

For them, in this poisoned political atmosphere, it's much safer flying a desk.

 

  -30-

 

 

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