Prisoner didn't seem threatening, says 2nd witness in assault trial of Yellowknife RCMP officers

·4 min read
Const. Francessca Bechard with her lawyer, Robb Beeman, centre, and Cpl. Jason Archer, right. Bechard and Archer are each facing one count of assault for an alleged excessive use of force on a prisoner in October 2020. (CBC News - image credit)
Const. Francessca Bechard with her lawyer, Robb Beeman, centre, and Cpl. Jason Archer, right. Bechard and Archer are each facing one count of assault for an alleged excessive use of force on a prisoner in October 2020. (CBC News - image credit)

The second witness in the trial of two Yellowknife RCMP officers charged with assaulting a prisoner testified Tuesday that he never felt the prisoner posed a threat.

Const. Francessca Bechard and Cpl. Jason Archer are each charged with one count of assault for their use of force against prisoner Tracella Romie in 2020 at the Yellowknife detachment.

In his testimony Tuesday, Const. Nicholas Alpaugh told the court Romie was "intoxicated" and "agitated" when he and Const. Robert Gossmann, who also testified this week, arrested her at a Yellowknife liquor store on Oct. 14, 2020.

On video footage from inside the vehicle, Alpaugh can be heard at the liquor store telling Romie to get in the back seat or he would "drag" her by her "f—ing hair" into the vehicle.

Alpaugh testified that after being placed in the back of their police vehicle, Romie began kicking the rear door from the inside. He said she was kicking so hard that the vehicle began to rock.

"I didn't fear she was going to harm me at any time," Alpaugh said when asked if he ever felt threatened by Romie. "I didn't feel that she was going to take a swing at me."

The two officers drove Romie to the Yellowknife detachment. In video recorded from inside their police vehicle, Romie can be heard screaming profanities from the back seat. At one point, she says she is going to "f–k up" the two officers.

When they arrived at the detachment, Archer and Bechard came out of the building to meet them. In his testimony, Gossmann told the court Archer opened the vehicle door and began speaking to Romie.

Surveillance video from both the bay leading into the detachment and an overhead camera on the roof of the building show Alpaugh pull Romie out of the vehicle and onto the ground.

Bechard then walks over and the two officers help Romie to her feet. None of the videos from the detachment have audio. After being pulled from the vehicle, Romie's pants were down to her knees. Bechard then pulls them up before escorting her into the detachment.

With Bechard and Alpaugh on either side, Romie is led into the enclosed bay before the detachment's booking area. At one point, the video shows Romie turn her head and shoulders toward Bechard. Bechard then forcefully leads Romie into the booking area and pushes her against the wall.

"She was actively resisting. She's not trying to get away, just pulling. She doesn't want to go where she's being led," Alpaugh said while describing Romie's behaviour.

Video from inside the booking area shows Bechard push Romie against the wall. She then puts her gloved hand up over Romie's mouth and turns her around to face the wall.

Gossmann testified officers are trained to put their hands over a prisoner's mouth if they believe they are going to spit at them.

Arms held up 'quite high'

With Romie against the wall, the videos show Archer enter the booking area and take control of Romie's hands which are handcuffed behind her back. At this point, Romie is being held against the wall by Archer and Bechard while Alpaugh and Gossmann stand just a few feet behind them.

Archer then pulls Romie's arms up behind her back so they are just above her shoulders.

Gossmann testified that is often done to try and control a prisoner. Alpaugh testified Archer pulled her arms back "quite high" and held them there for a "couple of minutes."

Alpaugh said that manoeuvre was never part of his RCMP training.

"She wasn't going to go anywhere. She was obviously resistant but she was in handcuffs," he said.

The video then shows Bechard begin to pat Romie down. When she is finished, Archer begins to remove her handcuffs. When her left handcuff is removed, Bechard places Romie's hand on the wall above her head.

Archer then removes the right handcuff but continues to hold Romie's hand behind her back. Seconds later, Romie turns her head and shoulders toward Bechard and lowers her left hand. Bechard then pushes Romie back to face the wall.

Bechard then punches Romie in the head.

Turning to face officer a 'threat cue'

On Monday, Gossmann testified he was shocked by Bechard's use of force but during cross-examination did concede that Romie turning to face Bechard was what RCMP call a "threat cue."

Alpaugh testified he didn't see the punch as his back was turned at the time.

He testified he felt he and his fellow officers were in "full control" of Romie the entire time.

During his cross-examination of Gossmann, Bechard's lawyer Robb Beeman referred to the punch as a "distractionary strike."

Gossmann agreed such "strikes" were used by RCMP to regain control of a prisoner.

Alpaugh is scheduled to be cross-examined Wednesday.

The trial is expected to wrap up Friday.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting