The witness portion of a B.C. Supreme Court civil suit in which a Wet’suwet’en woman alleges an RCMP constable used excessive force wrapped up in Smithers last week.
After hearing from defendant Const. Darrin Meier on Dec. 6, Madam Justice Brenda Brown is set to receive final arguments before making a ruling at an undetermined date.
During their testimonies, plaintiff Irene Joseph and Meier gave two very different interpretations of the Dec. 4, 2014 incident.
Irene Joseph told the Court she had gone to Mark’s Work Wearhouse in Smithers on the day in question. She said she ran into an acquaintance whose name she had forgotten.
The acquaintance, a woman, had allegedly stolen items from the store.
Joseph bought a scarf and left. She said she was met outside by an RCMP officer she would later learn was Meier, who asked her for the other woman’s name.
In Joseph’s testimony, she said she had initially told Meier it was embarrassing being questioned by officers right outside the store, especially considering she had not done anything, and asked him if they could move to the side of the building.
“I told him I wanted to go to the side of the store and he could talk to me there,” Joseph said.
“But he was pushing me, asking me who she was and he just [wouldn’t] stop.”
Joseph then tried to take a seat on her walker (which she had been using since 2008 due to a number of debilitating physical conditions including surgery she received to have her ankle fused together) and have a cigarette, but said the officer once again intervened.
She said he stopped her from grabbing her cigarettes and began to rummage through her purse.
Then, Joseph said Meier attempted to cuff her. She admitted she resisted.
“I wasn’t gonna get cuffed for something I didn’t do,” Joseph said.
“I wouldn’t let him do it because I didn’t do anything wrong.”
At that point, she said, Meier took her to the ground by knocking her legs out from under her with his feet sending her head first into the pavement.
Joseph said the struggle continued with Meier, who was still trying to cuff her, when they hit the ground.
He was unable to pull Joseph’s arms out from underneath her, she testified, because she interlocked her fingers together tightly underneath her body.
While on the ground, Joseph said Meier, who she testified felt like he weighed around 300 pounds in full uniform, stood on her left ankle for what she estimated to be between 10 and 15 minutes although it felt “like hours.”
Meier has denied all allegations and none have been proven in a court of law.
In his testimony, Meier said he was told by a dispatcher about alleged shoplifting at Mark’s Work Wearhouse. A store clerk called saying she believed two women were shoplifting.
Meier testified a store employee said she saw the other woman concealing her purse on the floor in between some aisles and using it to conceal a pink scarf.
Meier said she also mentioned she saw Joseph tuck the tag of a scarf she was wearing around her neck so it was out of sight.
This, Meier testified, piqued his interest.
“I suspected there was items in [Joseph’s] bag too,” he said, describing what he characterized as a common tactic used by shoplifters he encountered when he was previously posted in Duncan.
“A common tactic that would-be thieves would use is the loss prevention officer could see them concealing items in a bag or a pack or their jacket, that kind of thing, but then they would actually go through the till and pay for one item or two.
“It brought a level of legitimacy to their actions.”
No such additional items were found in Joseph’s bag at any point of Meier’s investigation, he admitted.
The employee then approached Joseph and the other unidentified woman and instructed the latter to remove the pink scarf from her purse.
She also informed Joseph she would have to pay for her scarf.
At this point, the unidentified woman fled the store.
Between Joseph’s initial conversation with the employee and paying for the scarf, Meier showed up at the store and spoke the employee who initially called 911.
It was as Joseph was leaving the store Meier had his initial verbal interaction with her, he said.
Meier said an attempt to converse with Joseph in a more casual manner was unsuccessful.
“As she went by me, I introduced myself and asked to speak with her,” he said.
“She didn’t say anything to me and just kept walking.”
At this point, Meier followed her out of the store.
“We went around the corner and I got her attention again. I said ‘Excuse me, I need to talk to you, in fact you’re being detained right now for investigation for theft.’”
This, he said, did get Joseph’s attention.
“She said ‘I don’t have to talk to you, I didn’t do anything wrong.’”
Meier characterized Joseph as displaying active resistance throughout the majority of their encounter.
He added he felt the situation constituted reasonable grounds to detain Joseph.
But he also said he was well aware of her age and the physical differences in stature between them.
“I knew that I could overwhelm her, I knew … I was bigger and stronger and I didn’t want to hurt her,” he said.
“And so I felt at a disadvantage, I felt like I was doing everything I could … if she would escalate I would just come up and match rather than go beyond and I felt like I was stuck.”
Meier said after asking Joseph the name of the other woman and telling her she was being detained, she expressed a desire to go back into the store.
“I certainly didn’t want her to confront [the employee] in front of everybody so I felt I had the grounds at that point based on the identity and evidence to arrest her.”
He said he was unable to get handcuffs on Joseph while the two were standing and called for backup from the detachment. He got a response almost immediately from another officer who said they would come to him.
Meier said after multiple attempts to arrest Joseph, he felt the next logical method was to take her down to the ground using what he described as an armbar takedown.
“You maintain control of the wrist and the arm and then with your free hand you can manipulate behind the bicep and use some leverage and … safely take them to the ground,” he said.
“So that’s what I did, I felt like I had no choice.”
This was a point of contention, with plaintiff counsel Ian Lawson suggesting multiple times to Meier in his cross-examination he swept Joseph’s feet out from underneath her.
“At no time did I testify that I swept her feet out from underneath her,” Meier countered.
“Well, I’m putting it to you that’s what you did. You swept her feet out and she went face down,” Lawson insisted.
Meier denied it.
“We were in the corner by the wall, I had control of her wrist, I believe it would be [her] right hand with my left hand, then I switched to her right hand and grabbed her right hand with my left hand and then with handcuffs still in hand I moved her so she would be [at] 90 degrees to me.
“I placed my left hand on her left hand. I took my right arm and placed it behind her bicep and then used … leverage, I guess you could say and then just was able to safely push her with that leverage and manoeuvre her down to the ground.”
Lawson questioned Meier multiple times about this.
“She hit her head on the ground,” said Lawson during a line of questioning about the armbar takedown.
“Absolutely she did not,” Meier replied.
“Why do you say that — absolutely?” asked Lawson.
“Because I was there, I took her to the ground,” said Meier, adding Joseph’s shoulder, chest, side, and right hand, the latter of which Meier said was still free, hit the ground during the takedown.
“She used that to brace herself.”
Lawson made multiple suggestions Joseph’s head hit the ground, all of which Meier unequivocally denied.
Meier also denied putting direct pressure on her ankle and said the majority of his weight would have been on her hips (with his torso) and on her lower to mid-upper back (with his arms).
“Really I’m trying to fish out those arms, my hands are busy doing that.”
“Your knee was on her back, is that correct?” asked Lawson.
“No that’s incorrect, my knee would have been at most in-between her legs so around her knee and upper thigh,” said Meier.
While he had Joseph on the ground Meier’s backup arrived, he said.
At this point, Joseph said Meier released his hold on her and that, after speaking with the other officer, the two questioned her for a few more minutes and then left.
She said the entire ordeal left her upset and confused as to why she was being treated the way she was by the officer.
“I just walked back to my walker and sat down — I just felt so dirty being accused.”
Joseph said the event as a whole has caused her extreme pain, both physical pain in the immediate aftermath of the incident and ongoing mental stress in the years following.
Lawson also suggested to Meier toward the end of his cross-examination that the RCMP officer used inappropriate escalation techniques for the situation which Lawson characterized as intimidation tactics to obtain information.
“I’m going to suggest to you your purpose in doing that was to use a bit of power and intimidation, you wanted to get the name of the [other] lady from her,” said Lawson referencing Meier’s testimony that he physically grabbed Jospeh by her jacket when she tried to re-enter the store.
“I just wanted to prevent her from going into the store.”
“I put it to you at this point you said ‘If you don’t tell me the name of that lady I’m going to have to take you to the detachment,’ did you say that?” Lawson continued.
“No, my lady, I did not,” replied Meier.
“I put it to you [that] you said that multiple times to her,” said Lawson.
“No, absolutely not,” said Meier.
Lawson further suggested Meier did not believe Joseph when she said she did not know the identity of the other woman.
“At this point you thought you had a lying person and I’m going to suggest you started to use intimidation to try to get her to talk,” he said.
“I unequivocally do not agree with that, intimidating her is not necessary. I need to conduct a theft investigation in a clear, concise manner according to my training.”
In his response to Joseph’s initial claim in 2015, Meier argued he had reasonable grounds to believe she had shoplifted after speaking to the store manager. However, his response clearly stated she paid for her scarf.
“Const. Meier was required, justified and authorized to arrest and detain the plaintiff without warrant and to use as much force as necessary for that purpose,” his response said.
Before the trial continues, Brown will receive final written arguments from defence and plaintiff counsel. No date for a continuation has been set.