Civilian police investigator targets evasive Vancouver officers for further probe

VANCOUVER — Two Vancouver police officers who punched and injured a drunken man won't face further investigation into their use of force, but four other officers who witnessed the arrest last year might have to explain their actions to B.C.'s police complaint commissioner.

The findings are contained in a report from Ronald MacDonald, director of the Independent Investigations Office, the civilian body that examines all cases of police-involved death or serious injury in B.C.

In his probe of the arrest last February on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, MacDonald says the man had a blood-alcohol level three times above the legal limit when he ran from six officers who tried to arrest him as he threatened them after intervening in an unrelated traffic stop.

MacDonald says civilian investigators were told the man's multiple facial fractures and broken rib happened when he fell on his face during the arrest, but questioning of the four officers who agreed to be interviewed revealed he fell backwards, and his injuries came from the punches and knee strikes of officers.

Records submitted by an undercover officer who was not interviewed show he punched the man as he wrapped himself around the officer's leg, within grabbing distance of his gun, but only one of the four interviewed officers admitting to seeing "a bit of a struggle," while the member who administered the knee strikes said she didn't see what was happening to the man's head.

MacDonald concludes the knee strikes were justified because the man was close to an officer's gun and the report finds there's no evidence to show the punches were excessive, but MacDonald's frustration is focused on the "unsatisfactory" accounts from the witness officers and he has referred the case to the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner for further consideration.

"While it is understandable that witnesses to a dynamic event sometimes have imperfect recollections of it, these witnesses were professional police officers, trained to be careful and accurate reporters of their observations, especially involving incidents of violence with the potential for legal repercussions," MacDonald says in his report.

Instead, he says interviewers from his office received "vague and inconsistent reports" full of "implausible gaps."

"Indeed, three officers initially failed to give obviously relevant evidence until pressed further during an interview," the report says.

The evasive evidence raised questions about referring the matter to the Crown, writes MacDonald, but he says it was determined the officers' conduct "did not rise to the level of a potential criminal offence."

Instead, he says the case has been handed to the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, the civilian, independent office that oversees complaints and investigations into municipal police agencies and can order discipline under the Police Act.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2023.

The Canadian Press