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Crime

Halifax police officer found guilty of assaulting homeless man, sentencing set for October

Warning violent content: Constable Gary Basso was found guilty of unlawful use of force against Patrice Simard, who suffered a broken nose. Elizabeth McSheffrey reports.

A Halifax Regional Police officer has been found guilty of assaulting a homeless man on Barrington Street on Feb. 25, 2018.

Justice Laurie Halfpenny-MacQuarrie delivered her ruling at Halifax Provincial Court on Wednesday, finding that Const. Laurence Gary Basso assaulted Patrice Simard while attempting to remove him from the Metro Turning Point shelter last year.

Simard required medical attention after the assault and was eventually treated for a broken nose.

“This officer was not acting in execution of his duty,” Crown attorney Peter Dostal told reporters outside the courtroom. “He was abusing the authority he’s been granted by his position as law enforcement, and to the detriment of a very disadvantaged and vulnerable individual. So we’re very pleased.”

READ MORE: Closing arguments heard in Halifax police officer’s assault trial

The Halifax Regional Police provided a brief statement in response to the verdict but said it would not be appropriate for them “to comment further on a court process.”

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“The conviction of one of our officers for a criminal offence is troubling. We recognize that police officers are expected to be above reproach at all times,” wrote Const. John MacLeod, a spokesperson for the HRP.

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“Following the handing down of the verdict this morning, we will take the necessary time to work through our next steps. A Police Act Investigation was initiated when this matter was brought to light. This investigation was paused during the criminal proceedings and will resume pending completion of the court processes.”

Police say any disciplinary action will not be disclosed as it is considered a confidential personnel matter. Assault causing bodily harm carries a maximum sentence of 10 years, and the conviction qualifies as grounds for dismissal under the Nova Scotia Police Act.

READ MORE: Man weeps after seeing video of Halifax officer allegedly striking him 

Basso, an officer with 14 years of experience in the Halifax Regional Police, was called to remove Simard from the Metro Turning Point on Feb. 25, 2018 after Simard 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.”

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Central to the court case was 17 minutes of security footage from the Metro Turning Point shelter.

The surveillance video played in court showed Basso arriving at the shelter to find Simard sitting outside.

A photo of Patrice Simard after he was allegedly assaulted by police Const. Laurence Gary Basso.
A photo of Patrice Simard after he was allegedly assaulted by police Const. Laurence Gary Basso. Halifax Provincial Court

In the video, Basso begins the exchange by speaking to Simard from his parked police cruiser for roughly three minutes before stepping outside.

Basso testified that he punched Simard’s head only in response to a punch Simard had made at his leg.

The surveillance video doesn’t show Simard punching Basso’s leg, but the officer had suggested that is because the video only shows one angle.

In her ruling, Halfpenny-MacQuarrie determined Basso’s allegation was “nothing short of a mistruth.”

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“The most (Simard) can be said to have been doing was reaching for the bag,” she said, adding that Basso’s use of force was “not proportionate, nor reasonable, nor necessary.”

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She supported the Crown’s submission that Simard never punched Basso at all and that the man was instead trying to reach for his backpack, which Basso was holding, because backpacks are known to be “very valuable” to people experiencing homelessness.

Basso denied having any knowledge of how valuable the backpack may have been to Simard, and did not mention the backpack at all in his police notes and report from that evening.

WATCH: HRP officer’s assault trial continues in Halifax

HRP officer’s assault trial continues in Halifax
HRP officer’s assault trial continues in Halifax

Those are among the official documents that contributed to public mischief and breach of trust charges against Basso, who was accused by the Crown of including falsehoods, and leaving out details in his writing in an attempt to remove his behaviour from the spotlight during the subsequent investigation.

The breach of trust charge was eventually dropped and Basso was not convicted of public mischief on Wednesday. The Crown could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Basso intended to mislead anyone, said Halfpenny-MacQuarrie, although she acknowledged the lack of details in his notes.

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“This is not a reconcilable error for a seasoned officer,” she told the court.

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In the surveillance video, Simard is seen dropping to the ground and appears not to move for about 10 seconds after being punched by Basso. Medical records show Simard’s nose was broken following the incident.

Defence lawyer James Giacomantonio had 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.

READ MORE: Halifax police officer denies in court that excessive force used in incident with homeless man

Giacomantonio said it’s too early to consider an appeal.

“We’ve got to focus on the next stage and we’ll review the decision in anticipation of the sentencing, that’s for sure and we’ll deal with the appeal down the road,” he said on Wednesday.

He added that the process has been hard on Basso and his family.

“I think it’s been stressful, it’s taken a long time,” he said. “I think he felt and continues to feel like he was doing best and put in a tough situation that night. But we respect the court’s ruling and we’ll prepare for sentencing.”

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Sentencing for Basso has been scheduled for October. Basso has been suspended with pay since March 2018.

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