Halifax man alleges racial bias after arrest, jailing while making call in park

A Halifax Regional Police emblem is seen on a police officer in Halifax on July 2, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

A Halifax man is alleging racial profiling played a role in his arrest and jailing after he and his spouse pulled their vehicle into a park to make a cell phone call during a winter night in 2018.

Adam LeRue, who is Black, and his wife Kerry Morris, who is white, attempted to bring their complaint before the Nova Scotia Police Review Board Wednesday.

The complaint, which involves two Halifax police officers, alleges LeRue alone was targeted with hefty fines for being in the Dingle park’s parking lot after hours on the night of Feb. 12, while others in the area weren’t punished.

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“There were seven people in the vicinity,” said LeRue in an interview outside of the hearing. “I was the only Black person. She (Morris) was in the same truck as me. They didn’t arrest her or give her a ticket. I’m thinking I was racially profiled.”

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LeRue says he was charged with obstruction of justice and taken to jail, where he suffered overnight as he didn’t have access to a puffer for his asthma.

The 42-year-old Halifax resident says as the officer was writing him a ticket for over $200, he had asked to see the constables’ supervisor, but the supervisor did not come – and shortly afterwards he was arrested.

“He said if I didn’t show him identification, he’d charge me with obstruction (of justice) and bring me to jail,” LeRue said.

Morris is alleging she was mistreated when police removed her from the couple’s vehicle as LeRue was being handcuffed. She says she suffered bruises and a sore shoulder.

“They could have just said, ‘Look the park’s closed,’ and we would have gone home, no problem,” Morris said.

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Lawyers for Const. Brent Woodworth and Const. Kenneth O’Brien declined comment following Wednesday’s hearing.

Dean Stienburg, president of the Halifax Regional Police Association, told reporters the union is confident that if a hearing proceeds the officers’ actions will “be determined to have been appropriate under the circumstances.”

The officers’ lawyers argued before the board that the hearing had to be abandoned because the Halifax police failed to comply with a regulatory deadline to submit their findings to the Nova Scotia Police Complaints Commissioner last year.

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LeRue and Morris, as well as the municipality’s lawyer, Katherine Salsman, said it would be unfair to deny the couple a hearing when the police department itself was to blame for the delay.

The three-person board ruled the parties should make submissions during the summer, after which it would issue a written decision on whether the case can proceed.

Under the province’s police conduct system, complaints against officers are submitted to the Nova Scotia Police Complaints Commission, which can require the municipal police force to conduct an investigation.

Following an investigation, the police force is required to report its findings within 30 days to the complainants, the officers and the police complaints commissioner. In Morris’ and LeRue’s case, the police force admitted it had failed to meet last year’s deadline of May 3 and reasons weren’t provided.

The couple argued before the review board their complaint should be upheld by default due to the delay. The officers’ lawyers, however, pointed to regulatory wording and legal precedents they said indicates the delay removes the board’s jurisdiction to hear the case.

Outside of the hearing, LeRue said he went through restorative justice on the obstruction charge because he was fearful of acquiring a criminal record. “In that process I wasn’t told to apologize, but I was asked to reflect on what I would have done differently,” he said.

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He said the tickets for being in the park after hours and for failing to provide identification were dropped. “My intent was to be safe, pull over, use my phone and go home,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 15, 2020.

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