VPD officer charged with assault admits punching and kneeing suspect 6 times in 6 seconds

Vancouver Police Department Const. Beau Spencer took the stand Wednesday in his assault trial. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC - image credit)
Vancouver Police Department Const. Beau Spencer took the stand Wednesday in his assault trial. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC - image credit)

A Vancouver police officer charged with assault has admitted that he kneed a suspect three times and punched him three more within just six seconds not long after arriving at the scene of an arrest, but insists he was able to reassess the man's compliance between the blows.

Const. Beau Spencer, 35, is one of three Vancouver Police Department officers on trial for assault in connection with a May 2017 arrest at Commercial-Broadway SkyTrain station that left a suspect with four broken ribs and a collapsed lung.

As Spencer took the stand in Vancouver provincial court on Wednesday, he told the judge that suspect David Cowie was "actively resisting the entire time until he was placed into handcuffs."

Asked to characterize the suspect's resistance to arrest, Spencer testified that Cowie was "squirming" and making "subtle movements," but not assaulting the officers.

Surveillance video of the arrest played for the court appears to show Cowie lying relatively still when Spencer runs into frame from the station's entrance on Broadway. The suspect is being held face down by two other officers when Spencer hits him with his right knee for the first time.

He testified that his goal was to straighten Cowie's legs from a tucked position, so that the suspect couldn't kick anyone or jump to his feet.

Under cross examination by Crown prosecutor Peter Campbell, Spencer acknowledged that he did not attempt "soft manipulation" techniques like grabbing the suspect's legs before striking him with his knee.

Spencer testified that it was "obvious" gentler methods had been tried before he arrived and wouldn't work on Cowie.

"Those are the facts that you've arrived at in your six or seven steps past the turnstile?" Campbell asked.

Spencer said that was correct.

Officer denies mimicking partner's actions

Spencer is charged alongside Const. Brandon Blue and now-retired constable Gregory Jackson. The three officers all arrived on the scene after Const. Josh Wong, who is not facing any charges, called for emergency backup to help with a theft and obstruction suspect who'd fled from arrest.

The court has heard evidence that Blue was first on the scene after Wong, and immediately struck the suspect with his right knee before helping Wong to hold him down.

Spencer, Blue's partner that night, ran in to assist within seconds after parking their patrol car, the video shows.

Campbell confronted him Wednesday about his decision to strike Cowie with his knee.

"I'm going to suggest, sir, that you did not in fact make your own assessment as to whether the knee strike was necessary, but that you saw Const. Blue struck him with the knee and you decided to do the same," Campbell said.

Spencer said that was not true.

People ride the SkyTrain in Vancouver, British Columbia on Wednesday, March 15, 2023.
People ride the SkyTrain in Vancouver, British Columbia on Wednesday, March 15, 2023.

The arrest that left David Cowie with multiple broken ribs happened at an East Vancouver SkyTrain station. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Asked to acknowledge hitting the suspect six times in six seconds, Spencer agreed that he had done so, but insisted none of the strikes had any effect on Cowie's compliance.

Campbell suggested the officer wouldn't have had time to assess the effectiveness of each knee strike or punch in between blows, but Spencer replied, "I would have to disagree with that. I did assess between the strikes."

Spencer testified that once he had Cowie's legs under control, he saw that the suspect's right arm was still loose, so he punched him twice in the back to create "pain compliance."

Campbell also questioned Spencer about his motivation for watching the surveillance video with Wong about one week after the arrest.

"Did you decide with Const. Wong how would you explain the force you used while you were viewing the video a week later?" Campbell asked.

Spencer denied watching the video for that reason, testifying that he and Wong were trying to see if Cowie had tossed anything as he ran into the SkyTrain station.

The court has heard that Wong was originally under investigation for the force he used during the arrest, but ultimately no charges were laid.

Spencer was previously investigated for his role in the 2015 death of Myles Gray, an unarmed man who was handcuffed, hobbled, punched, kneed, kicked, pepper-sprayed and struck with batons by several Vancouver officers.

No charges were approved in that fatal encounter.

2nd officer claims suspect was 'actively resistant'

Earlier in Wednesday's proceedings, Jackson took the stand and testified that when he arrived at the scene, he saw that Spencer, Blue and Wong were all working on the suspect from different angles.

"I see a struggle going on between the members and the individual," he told the court.

Jackson said he noticed that Cowie's right arm was pressed under his body, and he realized he needed to grab and restrain it so the suspect would not be able to reach for any weapons.

"He was actively resistant. Soft control was not working," Jackson testified.

He told the court he punched Cowie twice in the bicep until he was able to wrestle the arm out and hold it.

Jackson told the court he did not make any notes, enter any details into the PRIME police database or complete a report on the suspect's behaviour and his response.

Both Jackson and Spencer claimed they had no awareness of the force that any of the other officers were using to subdue Cowie. They denied trying to punish the suspect, and said they only used appropriate force.

The trial is scheduled to continue, although a date for the next hearing has yet to be set.