WARNING: This story contains graphic language.
TORONTO – A constable who bloodied a man during a wrongful arrest almost nine years ago remains on active duty despite a scathing decision by a judge, who recently found the officer liable for $28,500 in damages for assault and malicious prosecution.
In a statement Friday, the chief of Niagara Regional Police said he had ordered a review of last week’s civil judgment against Const. Matt Pouli and would have no comment pending its completion.
The incident in August 2008 left Garett Rollins, who was celebrating his 19th birthday at a house party in Niagara Falls, Ont., with a bruised and bloodied face, chipped tooth, and a charge of assaulting a police officer. Rollins was acquitted at trial a year later.
He then sued the officer – along with the police service, the police board, and the municipality – in a case that finally came to trial last September.
In finding in Rollins’ favour, Superior Court Justice Paul Sweeny made it clear he disbelieved the version of events put forward by the officer and a colleague, who both tried to pin the blame for what happened on the victim.
What set Pouli off, Sweeny found, was a comment Rollins made when his colleague, Const. Ben Tomiuck, unnecessarily pushed a women into a wall as they broke up the noisy but otherwise peaceful basement party.
“Can you do that?” Rollins said, according to court records.
“We can do whatever the f–k we want,” Tomiuck apparently retorted.
“You don’t have to be such dicks about it,” witnesses said Rollins responded.
Witnesses said Pouli then attacked Rollins, who at the time had plans to become a police officer. The victim, the judge found, was not resisting and had put his hands up.
“PC Pouli took exception to the words used by Mr. Rollins,” Sweeny found. “He overreacted. He punched Mr. Rollins. When Mr. Rollins went down on the ground, PC Pouli continued to strike him.”
Sweeny found that the partygoers were simply having fun and were compliant when the officers ordered them to leave. He noted evidence that a polite and respectful Rollins was actually trying to help the officers clear the basement when he was assaulted. Pouli also slammed Rollins’ head against the police cruiser, the judge found.
While the two officers claimed Rollins had been aggressive, adopted a fighting stance and had challenged Pouli to fight, several other credible witnesses contradicted them, Sweeny said. The judge also rejected Pouli’s statement that he didn’t notice the victim’s injuries given that Rollins’ blood was smeared all over the floor and carpet.
Sweeny concluded that Pouli had assaulted Rollins, who is now a real estate agent, and had no reason to arrest him. As a result, he awarded the plaintiff damages for false arrest. The judge also faulted the officer for charging and prosecuting the victim for assaulting a peace officer.
“The case should not have gone to trial,” Sweeny said. “It was improper.”
The incident was significant for Rollins, Sweeny said, and “altered his future career plans forever.”
Included in the award against Pouli and the other defendants was $10,000 in punitive damages.
Pouli’s lawyer, Stephen Chisholm, said Friday he would not comment.