By Barry Gerding
A former Terrace RCMP officer has been given a reprimand and docked two days pay for using excessive force to subdue a man inside a detachment jail cell in April 2012.
Const. Brian Heideman appeared at the South East District RCMP headquarters in Kelowna before a three-person RCMP adjudication panel hearing via video conference with Ottawa.
The panel found his actions in the Terrace incident carried out in a disgraceful manner that brings discredit to the RCMP.
Heideman, joined in the hearing by his Kelowna lawyer Norm Yates, chose this particular process because the facts surrounding the incident were not in dispute and he wanted a resolution to the disciplinary actions he was facing.
“These use of force allegations have been outstanding for three years,” Heideman told the panel. “I wanted to have this dealt with as quickly as possible. My personality doesn’t deal well with this kind of discipline issue hanging over my head.
“The stress this has caused to me and my family is immeasurable. I apologize for any embarrassment my actions have caused the RCMP.”
Heideman said he was looking to move forward with his career in policing, which started with the Edmonton city police department 2002 until he applied to the RCMP in 2008, creating the possibility of being stationed in B.C. and being closer to his extended family.
During his service in Edmonton, Heideman was awarded a citation for bravery in 2007 and a safety distinguished service award in 2006.
In assessing the penalty to be imposed, the panel took into consideration letters and endorsement of support from Heideman’s colleagues at his current RCMP detachment posting in Vernon, that he didn’t assault the suspect with the sole intent to cause harm.
“There is no criminal culpability here and there is no civil culpability,” added Yates.
According to the panel hearing incident statement, the origins of the Terrace incident began at 6 p.m. on April 21 when police received a call from the wife of then local resident Robert Wright, saying her husband was intoxicated and threatening to commit suicide.
Officers responded and Wright was stopped in his vehicle whereupon officers noted symptoms leading to the conclusion he was impaired.
He was arrested and after a struggle, was taken to the Terrace detachment jail, where Heideman was just coming on duty as the acting evening watch commander.
As the two officers continued to deal with Wright in the jail cell, Heideman joined them, demanding that Wright kneel on a jail cell bench and cross his ankles while being handcuffed, so the jail admittance body search procedures could be carried out.
As the agitated Wright ignored the order and tried to stand up, Heideman proceeded to pin him in facedown position on the floor, using what he called an armed bar rotation takedown technique.
After the takedown, the officers noted a fresh cut that was bleeding on Wright’s head and he was sent by ambulance to Mills Memorial Hospital. The cut was stitched up and Wright was returned to the jail cell, but was noted to be acting disoriented.
The police sent Wright back to the hospital a second time and he was again returned, but the ongoing signs of disorientation caused police to send him back a third time, where medical staff then diagnosed brain injury symptoms.
Wright was subsequently flown by plane to Vancouver for further treatment.
The panel accepted that Heideman, married with two teenage children and a native of Smithers, had used “unnecessary and a disproportionate amount of force” to subdue Wright, but that no conclusive evidence existed to show the brain injury was caused by the police officer’s actions.
Wright ended up suffering a permanent brain injury that now requires full-time care, and he sued for damages in a civil case filed in 2014, which was resolved in an out of court settlement last month.
Wright’s civil litigation lawyer Scott Stanley said the settlement will ensure his client will have the care and support he needs while he and his wife forward with their lives.
“People who have suffered brain injuries encounter new challenges each day and this settlement will help Robert with those challenges,” said Stanley in a statement last month in announcing the civil case settlement.
“This is something that should never have happened. It is something that should never happen again. I believe the RCMP recognizes that it has many bridges to build with our First Nations people.”
The Wrights have since moved from Terrace and relocated in Penticton.
A second complaint addressed at the panel hearing against Heideman involved another incident in Terrace, in May 2012, in which a man suffered head and neck cuts after being subdued by being forced facedown on the ground with pressure applied by a knee to his neck.
The panel found Heideman was justified in his actions because the suspect was resisting being detained in the backseat of a police vehicle and continually reiterated threats to spit at the officer, and he wasn’t found to have used excessive force to deal with the situation.
With files from Margaret Speirs