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Man with brain injury not charged

A man who ended up with a brain injury after being held in police cells here and who now requires full time care will not face any criminal charges.

Although RCMP officers wanted Robert Wright charged after he was arrested for impaired driving last year, a government lawyer concluded there was no substantial likelihood of conviction given the level of force used by RCMP officers against Wright and because of injuries he suffered.

Wright was arrested April 21, 2012 after Terrace RCMP officers responded to reports of a possible impaired driver.

While in police custody, Wright, then 47, was injured and after being taken to the local hospital three times during the night, was taken to the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster for intensive treatment.

Police subsequently recommended charges of impaired operation of a motor vehicle, refusing to provide a breath sample and obstructing a peace officer.

A provincial lawyer then looked at evidence from the roadside when Wright was first stopped in his vehicle, evidence from his subsequent arrival at the Terrace RCMP detachment and interaction with police while in custody and evidence of his mental and physical condition before and after he was taken to hospital for the injury to his head, said Neil MacKenzie who speaks for the provincial criminal justice branch.

Once all the evidence was considered, the provincial Crown Counsel lawyer determined there was no substantial likelihood of conviction, he said.

There was no evidence available of actual erratic driving by Wright, and the physical symptoms of impairment observed by police were not sufficient on their own to support a conviction for impaired operation of a motor vehicle, MacKenzie said.

The Crown Counsel lawyer was also not satisfied that the available evidence supported a charge that Wright had willfully failed or refused to provide a breath sample without a reasonable excuse.

MacKenzie said the force used by police against Wright was also taken into consideration in concluding that there was no substantial likelihood of conviction.

“Crown Counsel was of the view, based on the material before him, that an unreasonable level of force was used by police and in light of what he understood to be the physical consequences to Mr. Wright, he concluded that it could impact the admissibility of some of the evidence gathered against Mr. Wright and/or provide a basis for a remedy under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, such as a stay of proceedings,” said MacKenzie in an emailed statement.

MacKenzie also indirectly referred to a decision made by another Crown Counsel to not pursue charges against one of the RCMP officers involved. He did so by noting that the standard of evidence used to decide if a person’s Charter rights have been breached is less than that to prove criminal conduct.

“An accused person need only prove a [Charter] breach on a balance of probabilities,” said MacKenzie. “To establish criminal conduct arising out of the same set of circumstances requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt. These are two different standards.”

“For this reason, the application of force by police against a person in custody may be a factor in assessing whether there is a substantial likelihood of conviction for offences proposed against that person, but at the same time not meet the standard for proof of criminal conduct against the police,” MacKenzie added.

Because of the circumstances of the incident, the head of the Terrace RCMP detachment, Inspector Dana Hart, asked that an independent investigation be done by the New Westminster Police Department. In-car and cell block video was handed over to New Westminster officers.

MacKenzie said that the Crown Counsel who reviewed the information regarding Wright did so separately from the Deputy Regional Crown Counsel who reviewed the information regarding allegations against a police officer.

The two lawyers “reviewed  separate investigative reports and did not share information or speak to one another about them. The assessments were completed independently,” said MacKenzie.

Specifically, MacKenzie said the Crown Counsel who reviewed the information regarding Wright did not have a neurosurgeon’s medical report made available to the Deputy Regional Crown Counsel who reviewed the information regarding the police officer. That information indicated that bleeding in Mr. Wright’s brain was likely caused by a medical condition.

“Although it was the opinion of a neurosurgeon that Mr. Wright’s more serious brain injury was not a result of trauma occurring in his dealing with police, even if it had been the result of police action, it would not render those actions unlawful in the circumstances of this case,” said  the  provincial criminal justice branch in a statement released last November concerning the case.

“Given that the Crown cannot prove that the force used by police in dealing with Mr. Wright was either unnecessary or excessive, there is no substantial likelihood of conviction [against the police officer] on any offence in these circumstances,” the statement added.

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