After months of witness testimony, the trial of a Halifax police officer accused of assaulting a homeless man is nearing its conclusion.
On Wednesday, the court heard final arguments both for and against Const. Laurence Gary Basso, who is alleged to have punched Patrice Simard in the Metro Turning Point parking lot early last year, causing bodily harm, and attempted to cover it up.
A lack of visibility in the security footage from the Halifax homeless shelter was at the heart of closing arguments.
The tape clearly shows Basso striking Simard in the face, but with Simard’s back to the camera, it’s unclear what kind of contact he had with Basso first.
Defence lawyer James Giacomantonio argued that it’s impossible to prove Simard did not strike Basso’s leg, as Basso claimed on the witness stand and in his police notes, while Crown attorney Sylvia Domaradzki argued that it’s impossible to prove he did.
Both seemed to agree that the tape “speaks for itself” but had very different interpretations of the behaviour it captured.
Basso was called to remove Simard from the Metro Turning Point on Feb. 25, 2018, after he had been kicked out for drinking in his bunk.
Intoxicated in the snowy parking lot, the court repeatedly heard over the course of the trial that Simard had asked to go to the “drunk tank” for the night, but Basso had told him the police station is “not a hotel.”
On Wednesday, the lawyers focused on just a few frames of the tape — the moment when Simard, on his knees before Basso, reaches for a backpack containing his belongings.
It’s possible Simard may have brushed Basso at that time, said the Crown, but if he did, it was anything but a punch to the leg.
WATCH: HRP officer’s assault trial continues in Halifax
The defence called the backpack a “red herring” that distracts the viewer from what was really going on — as Simard reached for the backpack with one arm, his other struck the constable, said Giacomantonio.
“The video, we say, enhances Const. Basso’s recollection. It is entirely consistent with his narrative,” he told Judge Laurie Halfpenny-MacQuarrie.
Addressing the Crown’s accusation that Basso’s notes are inconsistent and misleading, the defence conceded that Basso did leave the backpack out of his reports but argued that does not amount to dishonesty. Rather, the defence said, it’s evidence that Basso did not consider it important at the time — or at worst, he forgot it.
Domaradzki countered by describing the importance of detailed note-taking, as outlined in previous cases alleging police brutality, and argued that as an officer with 18 years of experience, Basso ought not to have forgotten to include such a critical detail.
She also claimed that Basso’s assault began not with the punch but with an “aggressive” push forcing Simard to the ground.
The defence took issue with the idea that the interaction constituted assault at all. Giacomantonio questioned whether Basso even broke Simard’s nose, given the lapse of time in between the alleged assault and the medical confirmation that his nose was broken.
He further submitted that the bruising caused by the punch did not meet the legal definition of “bodily harm,” as per the charge against Basso.
Basso has been suspended with pay since March 2018. A verdict is expected in May.