Edmonton police get reprimand, community service in discipline for violent arrest in 2017

Photo taken of Ronnie Mickasko a few days after his arrest and encounter with police.  (Edmonton Remand Centre - image credit)
Photo taken of Ronnie Mickasko a few days after his arrest and encounter with police. (Edmonton Remand Centre - image credit)

Three Edmonton police officers have each been reprimanded and handed 35 hours of community service after pleading guilty under the Police Act to using excessive force in a 2017 arrest.

A Law Enforcement Review Board (LERB) decision, dated April 20, outlines the penalties imposed after the officers and Edmonton Police Service Chief Dale McFee's counsel made joint submissions for a sanction.

Unlike criminal court documents, the officers are not named in the decision.

Under the Police Act, the officers pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful or unnecessary exercise of authority. Neglect of duty charges were dropped, as were misconduct charges against two other police officers.

The three officers were involved in the July 2017 arrest of Ronnie Mickasko, who was swarmed by at least 15 officers in Strathcona County after a police spike belt stopped a high-speed chase.

According to an agreed statement of facts, Mickasko, then 21, had been driving a stolen Dodge Ram vehicle at speeds up to 180 kilometres per hour, and it was believed he was armed. Two rifles were later found in the vehicle.

Video of the incident from an Edmonton police helicopter shows repeated kicks to Mickasko's head and body, as well as punches and knee stuns.

The 38-second attack resulted in a fractured orbital bone, nerve damage, facial trauma and multiple facial lacerations. Mickasko spent nine weeks recovering in the infirmary of the Edmonton Remand Centre.

The police disciplinary process took place after a 2018 Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) investigation recommended criminal charges be laid against an RCMP constable and one or two Edmonton police officers.

But charges were never laid because a Calgary Crown prosecutor reviewed all the evidence, including witness statements and audio and video recordings, and determined there was no reasonable likelihood of conviction.

The LERB decision says Mickasko's facial injuries were not the result of the use of force by any of the Edmonton police officers.

A conduct hearing for the RCMP constable involved ended in February 2020. The RCMP says the results are private, but after 32 months of suspension with pay, the officer returned to his job.

The three Edmonton officers have already completed the 35 hours of community service imposed in the LERB decision.

Agencies where they volunteered included the Edmonton Humane Society, a hospital society and Habitat For Humanity.

In his decision, the disciplinary board's presiding officer and former RCMP chief superintendent Fred Kamins said the penalties were on "the light end of the scale."

"This was not a sanction that I would have imposed," Kamins wrote.

"Clearly, the [EPS] Chief has information that I am not privy to that he believed mitigated what should have been a more serious sanction. That said, the fact that I do not agree with a joint sanction is not the test to be applied."

Kamins concluded the proposed sanction is "both reasonable and does not offend the public interest."

He said also he accepted the chief's submission that the officers had demonstrated some remorse by pleading guilty and serving in the community.

But Edmonton criminal defence and human rights lawyer Derek Anderson said the penalties imposed on Edmonton police send a message.

"What the sentence tells the public is that the police will not be punished to the same extent as a member of the public would for the same kinds of conduct," Anderson said.

"What it suggests is that the Edmonton Police Service is still, significantly perhaps, too concerned with protecting their own in the face of allegations of misconduct — that their first concern is not the public's perception of the administration of justice, including how the police act, but the police's ability to protect their own."

Background of the case

According to an agreed statement of facts, during the chase on July 25, 2017, Mickasko was at times driving on the wrong side of the road through red lights with his own lights out.

After the spike belt stopped the car, EPS helicopter Air1 advised over the radio twice that the suspect had exited the truck and was lying on the ground, the LERB decision says.

According to the decision, an RCMP officer ran toward a prone Mickasko and "kicked him forcefully on the right side of his head." An approaching EPS constable then kicked, kneed and struck Mickasko in the head.

The decision says an EPS sergeant trained in high-risk incidents approached Mickasko as one officer tried to handcuff him and another seven officers surrounded him. The sergeant kicked Mickasko three times in his mid-section and once in the bicep.

Another EPS constable, who said he believed Mickasko was struggling as numerous officers attempted to handcuff him, kicked him on the right side of the head.