Crown withdraws assault charge against Saint John police officer

Cst. Benaiah Sok's trial was scheduled for February, but the Crown withdrew the charge Monday. (Roger Cosman/CBC - image credit)
Cst. Benaiah Sok's trial was scheduled for February, but the Crown withdrew the charge Monday. (Roger Cosman/CBC - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains offensive language.

The Crown has withdrawn an assault charge against a Saint John Police Force constable.

Const. Benaiah Sok was charged with assault after he arrested Preston Richards in August of 2021. The case has been going through the court system and ended Monday after the Crown withdrew the charge.

Gorham said his client filed a sworn affidavit to the Crown explaining "number one, why he had grounds to arrest the complainant that evening and number two, why the force he used was both necessary and reasonable from his perspective."

Sok's statement to the Crown which led, in part, to the charge being withdrawn was not read in court. It was also not part of the official court file.

Unacceptable behaviour, Sok reported

According to Sok's report from the day he arrested Richards, he was at a stop sign on Princess Street in uptown Saint John when he heard a man "yelling" at people passing by. When Sok started driving again, the man yelled, "It was about time you moved you f--king piece of shit," Sok wrote.

"I believed the male to be heavily intoxicated and felt that his behaviour was unacceptable," Sok wrote.

Sok drove around the block and parked by the restaurant patio where the man was sitting. He said in his report the man was intoxicated and "extremely vulgar and abrasive." Sok said he approached, held the man's arm and told him he was under arrest. The man pulled away and said "No, for what?"

In his report, Sok said he told the man he was wasn't being charged but that he was under arrest. The man stood up and kept trying to pull away. Sok said he put him his right arm around Richards's neck "as though to get him in a seatbelt hold to control him." Another officer came to help with the arrest, Sok said.

Once the man was arrested, Sok quoted him as saying, "You choked the sh-t out of me."

In his use-of-force report, Sok listed "wrist lock, neck restraint, holding down," as techniques he used to arrest Richards.

The police are allowed to use force in the line of duty, but the Crown previously alleged that Sok's use of force was "excessive," and he was "not justified" in applying that force to Richards.

The Crown can withdraw a charge if the facts change and there is no longer "a reasonable prospect of conviction or the prosecution is no longer in the public interest." This is what happened in this case.

Gorham confirmed Sok was not in custody as his case went through the system.

Fredericton police asked to investigate

Sok made the arrest in uptown Saint John on Aug. 22, 2021, court previously heard.

The force's professional standards department forwarded the complaint to the Fredericton Police Force on Sept. 3, 2021, for an external investigation.

Fredericton police completed the investigation in December of 2021, and Sok was officially charged. He had previously elected a trial by judge and jury, and his trial was scheduled for February.

The withdrawal of the charge means the case ends here.

Saint John police previously said Sok is on administrative duties and wouldn't be in contact with the public until the court case ends.

Saint John police spokesperson Sean Rocca said Monday Sok will remain on administrative duties until a Police Act investigation concludes.

Sok was one of three Saint John police officers charged with a crime in 2021-2022.

Sgt. David Kimball was charged with falsifying a report, obstruction of justice and breach of trust. The charge of falsifying a report was later dropped, and in December he was acquitted of the other two charges when the Crown presented no evidence.

After Kimball's acquittal, a Police Act investigation started, Rocca said, and he remains suspended with pay.

The third officer, Const. Nicholas Roy, was charged with assault with a weapon. He's scheduled to be back in court on Jan. 23.