Edmonton police constable acquitted of assault on suspect

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Const. Nathan Downing was exonerated of all charges in relation to an violent arrest of Nasser El Hallak in 2015. (Edmonton Police Commission/Submitted by Nasser El Hallak - image credit)
Const. Nathan Downing was exonerated of all charges in relation to an violent arrest of Nasser El Hallak in 2015. (Edmonton Police Commission/Submitted by Nasser El Hallak - image credit)

An Edmonton police officer has been found not guilty of using excessive force during an arrest six years ago that left the suspect with facial fractures.

Const. Nathan Downing was accused of repeatedly punching Nasser El Hallak in the head and shouting racial slurs during a traffic stop in 2015. But Downing said he delivered one blow to the side of El Hallak's head to stop him from fleeing.

At a disciplinary hearing, Downing faced six charges under the Police Act including unlawful or unnecessary exercise of authority and discreditable conduct stemming from a complaint filed by El Hallak.

Six years after the arrest, Downing has been exonerated on all charges.

"While I find the injuries sustained did in fact occur during the arrest, the use of force analysis must go beyond that rudimentary conclusion to determine whether or not the force used was appropriate in the circumstances," wrote presiding officer Thomas Grue in a decision released Wednesday.

"This is not a case of gratuitous violence employed by an out-of-control police officer," Grue said.

"The tackle was reasonably necessary to apprehend [El Hallak]. With respect to the single punch, [Downing] testified this was not a full-force strike.

"Again, I find this punch was restrained, purposely (although not precisely) measured, and was reasonably necessary to overcome the complainant's continued resistance."

Downing's former partner Nicholas Talvio was also acquitted of six counts under the Police Act. He was charged with deceit for allegedly submitting false statements about the arrest as well as neglect of duty for allegedly failing to report Downing's inappropriate use of force.

According to Grue's summary of events, just after 4 a.m. on March 25, 2015, Downing and Talvio began following a truck in northeast Edmonton being driven by El Hallak.

They decided to pull him over after a computer check showed the truck belonged to a woman.

Stopping at his nearby residence, El Hallak got out of the truck and ran from police. That's when Downing allegedly called El Hallak a f--king n----r, and, when he said he was Arabic, allegedly accused Muslims of "killing our people."

In his testimony, Downing said he barely had time to yell "stop police" and denied using racial slurs.

Grue concluded an assessment of the evidence favoured the officers' version of events.

"I first find such a spontaneous exchange between a police officer and a perfect stranger is implausible," Grue wrote, adding it was highly doubtful such an exchange could take place in the time frame required.

Grue also highlighted testimony by Talvio who said that he never heard Downing use racial slurs.

"[Talvio] punctuated his testimony by stating he would have remembered it if [Downing] directed any racial epithets at [El Hallak] or referred to the complainant as a Muslim because he had never heard a police officer use such slurs. His evidence exhibited both an air of reality and the ring of truth," Grue wrote.

"As a person who started their policing career in the '70s, it has been my experience that it has always been considered unthinkable in EPS culture to direct any kind of racialized language towards a member of the public.

"If an officer did so, it would certainly have been noticed and remembered."

Grue said while Downing provided "trustworthy and reliable evidence," he found El Hallak's testimony "consisted of an admixture of fact, pretense, faulty recollection, confabulation, and misconception."

The decision was handed down Wednesday after a disciplinary hearing which took place sporadically over 18 months.

During that time, Downing was removed from frontline patrol duties.