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Police officers defend violent arrest

Terrence McEachern
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, February 9, 2011

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - Four police officers took the stand in court last week to offer their recollections of what transpired on a night last September when they arrested a bloodied Yellowknife man who they say was resisting throughout the ordeal.

Lyle Richard Omilgoituk pleaded not guilty to charges of assault, assaulting a peace officer, uttering threats and resisting arrest on Sept. 14, 2010.

Crown prosecutor Duane Praught called several witnesses on Feb. 1 and Feb. 2, including Yellowknife RCMP members Const. Kristy Costache, Const. Warren Hudym, Const. April Bell and Const. Jonathan White. Along with Const. Mark Caswell, who testified during the first day of the territorial court trial in December, the four officers were involved in Omilgoituk's arrest on Sept. 5, 2010.

On that day, the Yellowknife RCMP responded to a call to support an ambulance at 900 Lanky Court at around 5:45 a.m. Caswell and Costache testified that they entered the residence to see Omilgoituk bleeding from a cut to the top his head, but he refused medical treatment from the paramedics.

Costache said she also noticed a female with the "look of fear in her eyes." Based on this, and Omilgoituk's agitated state, Costache said the situation seemed "a little off."

Costache said she managed to talk to the woman in the bedroom, and after about 10 minutes, told Caswell an uttering threats charge should be laid. Caswell tried to arrest Omilgoituk, but he allegedly pushed past him and raced down the hall, and tried to enter the bedroom with the woman in it.

Costache and Caswell, joined by Hudym and Bell, caught Omilgoituk halfway in the door. Omilgoituk continued to yell, scream and resist arrest.

"We were all telling him he was under arrest," Costache said.

Omilgoituk was angry, agitated, yelling, resisting and threatening the police, she said.

After a few minutes, they were able to handcuff him by the hands and legs. Caswell pepper sprayed Omilgoituk, punched him in the face and kicked him in the "head area" during the struggle, according to Costache's testimony.

On the first day of the trial in December, Caswell testified he punched Omilgoituk "two to three times" in the face and "deployed two to three kicks to his head." Consequently, Caswell's boots were so bloody that he said he had to replace them because he couldn't clean them.

Hudym said he got on Omilgoituk's back and punched him in the ribs three or four times to try to get him to stop resisting.

Costashe said as she tried to handcuff Omilgoituk's right hand, he grabbed and bruised her right wrist. Eventually the officers handcuffed Omilgoituk and carried him out of the apartment. In the hallway, Costache said a neighbour yelled "police brutality" and pointed a cell phone camera at them. Omilgoituk was carried out of the building and taken to the detachment.

In the patrol car, Omilgoituk allegedly yelled at Costache that he hoped she had kids and hoped they get AIDS, as well as other threats against officers' families, Costache testified. He also allegedly spat on the glass dividing the front and back seats in the patrol car.

Defence lawyer Jay Bran offered a different explanation for the spit on the window, saying the pepper spray, along with the blood rushing down Omilgoituk's face and into his mouth, would have forced him to spit out the fluids. When asked about this possibility, Hudym replied that he's "not a spitting expert."

Bran also pressed the officers about their presence in the apartment, asking each police officer that testified if they had knocked, announced their presence, or had a warrant to enter the premises. All replied they did not, only that they were providing support to the paramedics at the scene, and then remained in the apartment after Omilgoituk signed a waiver for treatment.

At the December trial date, the woman who was in the apartment with Omilgoituk testified that earlier in the evening of Sept. 14, Omilgoituk told her he "could cut her son's face and watch him bleed to death" and he "could crush her throat."

Her son testified he struck Omilgoituk in the head with a one-metre weightlifting bar, causing the cut on his head.

The case is set to resume Feb. 16 at 9:30 a.m. when the Crown and defence will give their final submissions to Judge Christine Gagnon.

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