A jury is behind closed doors to decide the fate of a St. John's police officer accused of sexually assaulting a young woman while on duty in 2014.
Const. Doug Snelgrove of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary was arrested in 2015, then acquitted in 2017. A year later, that verdict was dismissed.
The Supreme Court retrial wrapped up Thursday after a new judge and jury heard testimony. According to that evidence, the complainant, who was 21 at the time, had been drinking with friends downtown and got into Snelgrove's police car for a ride home.
Both Snelgrove and the complainant have testified they had sex inside her apartment. The complainant says she can't remember consenting.
Defence counsel Randy Piercey's closing argument attempted to sow doubt that the complainant was visibly intoxicated — enough so that Snelgrove should have questioned her ability to consent — or drunk enough to pass out before or during sex.
"Nobody besides her says she was too drunk to consent. She's the only one saying that," Piercey said.
One witness, who testified to drinking eight beers that night and did not know the complainant personally, said she seemed "fine" at a downtown St. John's club on the night under scrutiny.
Others said she was slurring her words, tripped, and was speaking in short, choppy sentences.
Piercey said testimony that the complainant gave directions to Snelgrove as he drove, called a friend and climbed through a basement window "flies directly in the face of her being too drunk to consent."
"What he did was really stupid," Piercey said, "but if stupid meant conviction, we'd all have criminal records."
Piercey then suggested the woman had retained a lawyer to sue Snelgrove if the jury reached a conviction — a point later questioned by the Crown, who said the retainer had been preceded by multiple rounds of police questioning early in the investigation.
Piercey also repeatedly told the jury that the complainant initiated sex, pointing to Snelgrove's testimony as the only detailed evidence of their sexual encounter.
A toxicologist called by defence as an expert witness said it's possible the woman had been experiencing a blackout but remained, to observers, engaged and sober.
"She could have appeared normal," Piercey said. "And if she did, that's enough to raise reasonable doubt."
'She's drinking and vulnerable'
Crown attorney Lloyd Strickland reminded the jury that the available evidence could point to three ways the woman did not consent.
It could be that she was passed out, or that she was so intoxicated she lacked the cognitive capacity to consent, he said.
He pointed to her testimony that she felt too drunk to stand up and sat down on her loveseat, then described "coming to" as Snelgrove spoke while penetrating her.
The third way they might convict invokes the authority clause, he continued: namely that Snelgrove, as a police officer, negated consent by inducing her to agree to sex.
Being a police officer is "a position of power and authority over a civilian," Strickland said. "When he takes her into his car…he's assuming responsibility for her wellbeing. She's getting a ride home in the middle of the night from a sober police officer in his police car. She's drinking and vulnerable.
"She testified she let him into her apartment believing he was checking on her safety ... you may find he abused that position."
Strickland emphasized that Snelgrove did not, according to police documentation and his own admission, follow RNC practice by reporting to headquarters that he had a female in the car with him.
"We're not taking the position that Mr. Snelgrove had some sinister plan," he said. "But he's certainly setting the table ... almost like he's the knight in shining armour."
Instilling feelings of trust and confidence in her through those actions could be enough to convict, he suggested.
The jury must find Snelgrove guilty if it decides either that the complainant was too drunk to consent or that Snelgrove abused his position of power and trust to persuade her, even subtly, to have sex, Judge Garrett Handrigan explained.
Deliberations continue in sequestration until the jury reaches a verdict.