Carson Briere is facing a charge of disorderly conduct — but this time, it won’t end after two minutes in the penalty box.
The son of Gatineau, Que., hockey great Daniel Briere was caught on a surveillance camera shoving an unoccupied wheelchair down a flight of stairs at a bar in Erie, Pa., on March 11. The video, which quickly went viral, was posted to Twitter by an employee of the bar who said she “just can’t stomach the thought of this kid getting away with it.”
The video shows Briere, 23, walking up to the entryway of a dance floor with three other people before sitting down in the unoccupied wheelchair. He tries to manoeuvre around then gets up and shoves the chair down the stairs. The wheelchair flips over and the seat cushion comes off during the descent.
Erie County court records show that Briere, a member of Mercyhurst University’s NCAA hockey team, was charged with criminal mischief and conspiracy to commit criminal mischief — both misdemeanours — as well as disorderly conduct, a summary offence. The same three charges were also laid against Patrick Carrozzi, 21, a Mercyhurst student listed as a senior member of the school’s lacrosse team.
Police say their actions posed a potential danger to anyone coming up the stairs, while also creating a hazardous condition by blocking the staircase.
The Erie Times reported that Briere and Carrozzi were notified of the charges via mail and were not arrested. Both are scheduled to appear at a preliminary hearing on May 22.
The wheelchair’s owner, Sydney Benes, 22, filed a complaint after the incident, reporting extensive damage to her wheelchair. Benes is a double amputee who lost her foot and leg in a fire after her car crashed in 2021. To be mobile, she needs the chair while she learns to use her prosthetics.
Benes wrote in the complaint that the chair’s fall down the stairs damaged the left brake handle, broke the right armrest’s plastic moulding, bent a rear handle and caused the wheels to drag when moving forward. She added that the wheelchair was purchased a year ago for US$2,000.
Employees of Sullivan’s Pub in Erie, where the incident took place, organized a GoFundMe page to help Benes raise money to replace her wheelchair.
The organizer of the campaign, Nathaniel Sanders, wrote that Benes’ chair was left alone in the stairwell that night because she was using the restroom at the bottom of the stairs. Sullivan’s Pub was built before accessible design requirements were enacted, so “I personally physically carry her down the stairs any time she has to use the restroom.”
The initial goal of US$1,500 has far been surpassed, with the amount raised sitting just under US$9,000 as of press time. Benes wrote on Twitter that she is looking to donate the extra money and thanked the staff at Sullivan’s Pub for helping her through this ordeal.
Sanders told CBS Philadelphia that Briere and one of his friends were kicked out of the bar after security reviewed the camera footage.
In the wake of “considerable outcry” just a day after the incriminating footage was released, Mercyhurst University issued a statement condemning Briere’s actions, announcing it had temporarily suspended him from the school’s hockey team. Two other Mercyhurst athletes were identified as being with Briere that night and were also placed on interim suspension.
The small university of around 3,000 students added that Briere’s actions fell short of respecting “the inherent dignity of each person” and the university is standing “in solidarity with the victim and all persons with disabilities who rightfully find actions like this to be deeply offensive.”
Both Briere and his father Daniel apologized for the incident through the Philadelphia Flyers, where Daniel serves as interim general manager, after the video was posted.
Briere wrote: “I am deeply sorry for my behavior on Saturday. There is no excuse for my actions, and I will do whatever I can to make up for this serious lack of judgment.”
Daniel, who was a top NHL player during his 17-year stint in the league, said he was shocked to see his son’s actions in the video.
“They are inexcusable and run completely counter to our family’s values on treating people with respect,” he said. “Carson is very sorry and accepts full responsibility for his behavior.”
Briere was previously dismissed from Arizona State’s hockey club in 2019 for what the school called a violation of team rules.
If convicted, Briere and Carrozzi could face up to two years in prison and a US$5,000 fine for second-degree misdemeanour charges. Summary offences in Pennsylvania carry a maximum sentence of 90 days and a US$300 fine.
If the defendants have no prior criminal record, misdemeanour and summary offence convictions can lead to probation.