KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – A complaint lodged by a Halifax couple who believe that they were racially profiled by Halifax Regional Police (HRP) hit a procedural hurdle at this morning’s Nova Scotia Police Review Board meeting.
The issue had nothing to do with the complaints, and everything with HRP screwing up and not following due process. The disturbing part is that it may let the accused cops off the hook before the tribunal, scheduled to last two days, even gets started for real.
Sitting in a parking lot after dark while Black
The initial complaint was lodged by Adam LeRue, who is Black, and his passenger and partner Kerry Morris. On February 18, 2019 LeRue and Morris pulled into the Dingle parking lot shortly after 10 PM while driving homeward to respond to an incoming phone call.
What happened next is eerily similar to the stories told to Dr. Wortley at the two community meetings I attended in Lucasville and North End Halifax and that are extensively documented in his report.
Constables Kenneth O’Brien and Brent Woodworth came to the couple’s car demanding LeRue show his ID. They told him that they would write him a ticket for being in the park after dark. That’s a $220 fine.
“He never ever asked me to leave. This was at 10 o’clock at night. It wasn’t like we were there at 3am, doing hanky panky, you know what I mean?” LeRue told reporters during an intermission in the proceedings.
LeRue, a man without a criminal record who has been profiled more times than he can remember, asked to see the officer’s supervisor.
“I was doing the right thing at the time, pulling over to use my phone instead of driving, and I wanted to talk to a supervisor, to make him understand what was going on and then let him make the call. The police officer that pulled us over was escalating the situation. He said if I didn’t show my ID that he was going to charge me for obstruction and put me in jail,” LeRue said.
When all was said and done, LeRue received three tickets (being in a park after hours, refusing to provide ID, and obstruction) and spent the night in a Gottingen Street cell.
LeRue has asthma, but while in jail cops refused to give him his puffer after Morris brought it to the police station. Morris at one time was pulled out of the truck and suffered minor injuries as a result. The park ticket was later dropped, and the criminal charges were resolved through a restorative justice process that LeRue reluctantly agreed to.
LeRue and Morris believe racial profiling played a part in all of this because several other people also in the parking lot at the time were merely asked to leave. Similarly Morris, who is white, also wasn’t charged.
The uphill battle of getting heard
LeRue and Morris, following the process, filed their initial complaint with the Halifax Regional Police. An investigator was assigned (also from HRP, that’s the way these things are handled), who submitted their report to then Acting Chief Robin McNeil.
That’s where things went very wrong.
The disciplinary authority, despite repeated reminders by the Police Complaints Commissioner, failed to act on the report, either by charging the officers or deciding to do nothing, within the 30 days prescribed by law. The decision not to pursue the matter was only made after the legal deadline.
This created a legal conundrum. How can you appeal a decision that itself may not have been legal because of the missed deadline?
That whole notion of missed deadlines was first raised by LeRue, but mostly to illustrate how little HRP cared about these kinds of complaints. “Here they were asked to investigate themselves, and they couldn’t even do that right,” LeRue said. “Meanwhile, if we had missed any deadline, our complaint would have been dismissed for sure.”
Two lawyers represented the two constables, another lawyer represented HRP. Morris and LeRue represented themselves.
Counsel for the two constables further pursued this angle, and there was a long discussion about legal precedents and the finer subtleties of must and shall, mostly way over my head.
There was a brief recess for the adjudicators to discuss the issue, and then the request that all parties submit briefs on the matter before a decision will be made.
LeRue and Morris aren’t happy about it.
“You’re all talking about legal precedents, but just think about the legal precedent you are setting if this case gets dismissed. How is this fair? We don’t have any control over HRP investigating itself and missing these deadlines. They could even miss these deadlines on purpose, and just time themselves out,” LeRue said. “HRP never took this investigation seriously, we had to press them at every step.”
If it’s decided that the tribunal can continue it likely won’t be before late summer, early fall.
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