RCMP won't say if Yellowknife officers will be investigated over stayed assault charge
The RCMP will not say whether they will be investigating the conduct of two Yellowknife officers who were facing assault charges after allegedly using excessive force on a detained Indigenous woman in 2020.
The charges against Const. Francessca Bechard and Cpl. Jason Archer were stayed in early June after prosecutor Greg Lyndon told the court there wasn't a "reasonable prospect of conviction." No other details were given as to why the charges were dropped.
Tom Engel wants to know what the RCMP is doing in response. He's the chair of the Criminal Trial Lawyers' Association's policing committee — an Alberta-based group, dedicated to educating the public and governments on issues of criminal justice.
Engel sent a letter to RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki in late July asking if there would be a conduct investigation into the two officers' actions, a process that is governed under the RCMP Act where authorities look into the incident too see if the officers broke the force's code of conduct.
Lucki responded to Engel, saying she would not reveal those details due to the Privacy Act, which "prohibits government institutions, including the RCMP, from disclosing the personal information of their employees."
"I am therefore not in a position to confirm whether or not a conduct investigation has been initiated against the members you have identified," she wrote.
Engel sent a second letter responding.
"This is incorrect" he wrote to Lucki, citing legal precedent where public interest outweighs any invasion of privacy.
In municipal police forces in Alberta, under the Police Act, any situation where serious injury or death that may have been caused by the actions of a police officer, is subject to an investigation by a serious incident response team.
Engel said his organization reached out to the RCMP to ensure there is oversight.
"They could conduct their conduct investigation and then decide not to lay any disciplinary charges. Right? But they at least have to do that," he said.
"I was very surprised that the RCMP is so secretive and insensitive to the public interest that they would keep this hidden from the public about whether they're conducting an RCMP Act investigation."
Engel said this court case stuck out to him, because another RCMP detachment had found grounds to press charges — something he said is rare when it comes to police investigating other police.
"The Crown decided to withdraw the charges, but not the RCMP," Engel said.
"That doesn't mean that the court found that there was not a criminal assault. The court never had an opportunity to pronounce on it because the Crown took it away from the court."
Video footage, a witness and an RCMP investigation
The charges stem from an incident involving 25-year-old an Tracella Romie who was arrested at the Yellowknife liquor store. She was allegedly intoxicated inside the store, refusing to leave and assaulting staff.
When the arresting officers arrived at the detachment several minutes later with Romie, they were met by Archer and Bechard. Romie was escorted into the detachment and after an initial pat-down, Archer and Bechard removed her handcuffs to do a more thorough search.
Video footage from inside the detachment shows Bechard allegedly punch Romie at some point after the pat down.
A fellow officer at the Yellowknife detachment also testified as a witness that he saw the punch.
CBC News asked RCMP whether there will be an investigation, but didn't receive a response in time for deadline.
A similar situation happened in New Brunswick where three officers were facing charges of obstruction of justice.
Those charges were dropped, but the RCMP said the officers would remain suspended with pay pending the outcome of an RCMP code of conduct investigation. The hearings for two of those officers is scheduled for September.