Kelowna Mountie found not guilty of assault in impaired driving arrest

An RCMP officer is seen running in a still image taken from a video that captured the arrest of Tyler Russell. (Castanet - image credit)
An RCMP officer is seen running in a still image taken from a video that captured the arrest of Tyler Russell. (Castanet - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains graphic footage and images of violence.

A Kelowna RCMP officer who was seen on video punching a man several times in the head during an impaired driving arrest was found not guilty of assault in Kelowna Provincial Court on Thursday.

At the hearing, Justice Mary Anne Anderson found Const. Siggy Emmit-Steven Pietrzak used "necessary" force in the May 30, 2020, arrest of Tyler Russell.

In video footage, Pietrzak is shown arriving on the scene in a police vehicle and running to where Russell is struggling with two officers — Const. David Carter and Const. Regan Donahue.

It then shows Pietrzak punching Russell in the head at least 10 times while Carter and Donahue restrain him.

"I find that the defendant had few options available to him," Anderson said in her ruling.

WATCH | RCMP officer repeatedly punches man 

"Mr. Russell posed a threat to [the two officers]. Mr Russell was younger, strong, empowered by liquor and drugs and fixed in his determination to do everything he could do to avoid being put in handcuffs."

The court heard Pietrzak delivered "a series of quick, shorter punches in two volleys" that brought Russell to the ground.

Anderson said while the blows caused cuts to Russell's head and Pietrzak's knuckles, the punches were not delivered with the full power of the officer's body and only about half of them connected.

"The defendant's punches were necessary," Anderson said.

"They were not out of proportion for the risk posed by Mr. Russell in light of his size, determination and intoxication. In all the circumstances they were reasonable. Shocking, but reasonable."

'1 of top 10 most difficult' arrests: officer at scene

Anderson said the two officers first on the scene — Carter and Donahue — testified Russell was "actively resisting" and they worried he would become violent if he got free.

Anderson said Carter "rated this arrest as one of the top 10 most difficult of his career."

Pietrzak, his lawyer, and the Crown lawyer all attended the hearing via video link. Their reactions to the decision were not immediately available.

In her ruling, Anderson said the incident happened during a time of heightened awareness of police violence, just days after police officers in the United States killed George Floyd during an arrest.

"The fact that these punches were disturbing was not surprising in this context of this apparent three-to-one struggle and against the backdrop of the murder of George Floyd by a police officer days before," Anderson said.

"The fact that people are disturbed to see such violence is heartening. Apathy in the face of such violence would be much more troubling."

Internal Code of Conduct process ongoing

According to RCMP, the incident began with Carter and Donahue responding to reports of a suspicious vehicle in a parking lot. The two officers found an intoxicated Russell inside the vehicle.

Police allege Russell was unco-operative and clenched his fists as he struggled with Carter and Donahue.

submitted by Bridge Law Corporation
submitted by Bridge Law Corporation

Two videos of the arrest later surfaced: the original 12-second video shows Pietrzak arriving in a police vehicle and running to where Russell is struggling with Carter and Donahue. It then shows Pietrzak punching Russell in the head while the two other officers restrain him.

The second video, 60 seconds in duration, shows a longer portion of the arrest.

According to RCMP spokesperson Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet, the results of an internal investigation into the arrest were reviewed by another police agency before the file was forwarded to Crown prosecutors for charge approval.

The charge against Pietrzak was sworn in April 2021. At the time, an RCMP news release said he was suspended with pay.

On Thursday, RCMP spokesperson Dawn Roberts said Pietrzak "is still subject to allegations under the RCMP Act and therefore the internal Code of Conduct process is ongoing and he remains suspended with pay."

Civil lawsuit cited physical, emotional damages

Russell launched a civil lawsuit against Pietrzak, the Attorney General of Canada and the B.C. Minister of Justice in June 2020, citing physical and emotional damages

Russell, who was 30 at the time of the incident, claimed in court documents he sustained "multiple lacerations to his face, damage to his nose, bruising of his face and bruising of his ribs" during the assault.

He also claimed the assault left him with "serious injuries and consequences, including post-traumatic stress disorder, diminished self-worth, depression, anxiety and loss of enjoyment of life," among other challenges.

In his response to the claim, Pietrzak has said the punches were justified after he saw his fellow officers struggle to arrest Russell, who was "larger and stronger" than they were.