Sexual assault trial of former Bridgewater police chief hears about deleted messages, missing cell phone
Hundreds of messages were deleted from a Facebook conversation between Bridgewater’s former police chief and the 17-year-old girl he’s accused of sexually assaulting, an RCMP investigator has testified in Nova Scotia Supreme Court.
John Collyer faces charges of sexual assault and exploitation against the minor in relation to interactions that took place between April and July of 2016.
Sergeant Gordon Vail of the province’s Serious Incident Response Team (SiRT) led the investigation against him, and took the stand in Bridgewater on Wednesday afternoon.
According to raw data retrieved from Facebook in California, 596 messages were exchanged between Collyer’s account and the teen between April 2015 and August 2016.
Of the 596 messgages, 536 were deleted, according to the data provided by Facebook.
The 60 messages remaining, Vail told the court, contained no material that he would describe as “inappropriate” or “sexual in nature.” That’s in contrast with the alleged screenshots of the conversation shared with him by the girl’s mother and a family friend.
The data was retrieved by SiRT, which functions as a police watchdog, in April 2017. That’s about eight months after Collyer had been served notice of the investigation against him, and days before the police watchdog laid charges against him.
It’s unknown who deleted the messages and why but Crown attorney Roland Levesque suggested it was a “serious coincidence” that they were gone and that Collyer lost his cell phone only days after being served notice.
The missing cell phone made it impossible to retrieve any possible evidence that it may have contained.
The data from Facebook also showed that all of the messages had been deleted from the complainant’s account. She can’t be identified under a publication ban.
“Obviously, as the investigator indicated, if they would have had that cell phone, it was the one that they believed had been used to send the Facebook messages,” Levesque told reporters in court on Wednesday.
“So it would have been an item that could have provided them with corroborative evidence.”
Levesque argued that the ex-police chief, who was taken off the town’s payroll in May 2017, deleted the messages himself and got rid of the cell phone so police couldn’t access them.
Collyer’s lawyer, David Bright, responded that there was no evidence of who did what and why.
WATCH: Former police chief goes on trial for sexual assault
Nevertheless, Justice Mona Lynch allowed those two elements to be entered into the trial as after-the-fact conduct, ruling that Collyer’s role can’t be confirmed in either, but the Crown’s inferences were “available,” based on logic, common sense, and human experience.
She said making them admissible did not determine their weight and they would be used to assess “intent” and credibility, while weighed with other evidence.
Counsel for Collyer has declined to comment on this case.
The trial is now running a few days behind schedule, putting pressure on counsel and the court system to wrap up the legal battle before the fall.
According to the Supreme Court of Canada’s Jordan decision, an accused person facing an indictable offence has the right to be tried within a “reasonable time.” In this case, that’s 30 months ending on Nov. 3, 2019.
Levesque declined to comment directly on whether there’s a possibility the trial may not finish in time.
“We’re always concerned about timelines,” he said. “Having this 30-month schedule imposed upon us makes us weary of where we are in the process, so it’s an issue we’re paying close attention to.”
A family doctor also testified on Wednesday. Global News has chosen not to name him in case that could identify the complainant.
The doctor was one of the first people to see the chain of questionable Facebook messages, and first notified the RCMP of his concerns they contained “inappropriate” content.
The court heard on Tuesday from the complainant’s mother that the messages were “sexual” in nature, including suggestions that her daughter was “hot.”
On Wednesday, Levesque read from the screenshots of the thread, which were admitted as evidence on Tuesday. Vail confirmed the following messages from Collyer’s account to the girl were not present in the Facebook raw data:
“Hanging out in your room. If I was alone, (I would) get in trouble.”
“Love you kiddo, seriously… You are hot.”
“Try it now so I can send you dirty limericks.” (referencing a video)
“Apparently, you give awesome foot rubs.”
Court time has been set aside for this trial until Monday, but additional time will be scheduled to accommodate all the witnesses and cross-examination.
Editor’s note: A correction was made to this article on July 11, 2019 at 5:26 p.m. The original incorrectly stated that the RCMP charged Collyer, when in fact, SiRT did.
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