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Lawyer slams court delays as Mountie acquitted 7 years after arrest

Click to play video: 'Lawyer for RCMP officer condemns slow pace of justice'
Lawyer for RCMP officer condemns slow pace of justice
The lawyer for an RCMP officer who has been found not guilty of all charges in connection with an arrest in Prince George is condemning the fact it took more than seven years for the case to go through the system. Kristen Robinson reports – Aug 24, 2023

The lawyer for a B.C. RCMP officer acquitted of assault and obstruction of justice this week is slamming the justice system for the length of time it took for the case to conclude.

Const. Joshua Grafton was one of three officers charged in relation to an arrest in Prince George captured on camera in 2016, involving two suspects in a vehicle theft.

Charges against the other two officers were stayed in 2021.

Grafton, who was the RCMP dog handler involved in the arrest, was found not guilty of assault, assault with a weapon on Tuesday, more than seven and a half years after the incident took place.

“Accountability in a democracy is very important,” said Hira-Rowan LLP lawyer, Ravi Hira, K.C., who represented Grafton.

“The Crown needs to account for the waste of resources, their lack of acting on information given to them showing that this case was bound to fail, the lack of supervision, the crown has to be held accountable, respectfully for what has happened here, and the total waste without supervision.”

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Click to play video: 'Security video captures K9 arrest in Prince George'
Security video captures K9 arrest in Prince George

According to the ruling, Grafton used a police dog to pull suspect Culyer Richard Aubichon from the vehicle. The dog bit his left arm. In just under a minute Grafton struck the suspect seven times, including a knee strike.

“This was a very high risk situation,” Provincial Court Judge Peter McDermick wrote in his ruling, finding that Grafton couldn’t see Aubichon’s right and and believed the suspect could have been reaching for a weapon.

“In light of the significant risks and dangers Constable Grafton and others faced, the decision to utilize an intermediate weapon with a significant chance of injury, requiring some kind of hospitalization was proportionate, necessary and reasonable. It was critical to everyone’s safety to take control and resolve the situation as quickly as possible.”

While McDermick said parts of Grafton’s account of the incident didn’t match the video, he was acquitted of obstruction because the judge had reasonable doubt with respect to whether the officer had the specific intent to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice.

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Hira said Grafton’s case took two years to process through the Independent Investigations Office, then another two years through the B.C. Prosecution Service’s office.

Click to play video: 'RCMP union calls for swifter police complaint investigations'
RCMP union calls for swifter police complaint investigations

The trial then occupied dozens of days, he added.

“At a cost of almost $4 million (in) investigation, crown, court, defence costs in doing a summary conviction, minor assault with a highly decorated RCMP officer when there was no reasonable prospect of any conviction in my opinion,” Hira said.

The lengthy investigation and court process has had a crippling effect on Grafton’s career, added Hira.

Click to play video: 'Family of Prince George man killed in police custody calls for change'
Family of Prince George man killed in police custody calls for change

“An officer is put in a state of stasis for the period of time for which charges are overhanging and the decision is finally rendered,” he said.

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“For seven-and-a-half years Const. Grafton was unable to be relocated, was ineligible for promotion, and quite frankly the stresses of this court case hung over his head for what amounted to one third of his career.”

The National Police Federation, which acts as union for non-commissioned RCMP officers, also slammed the delays.

“Everyone deserves the opportunity to be exonerated in a timely fashion, or to be held accountable in a timely fashion,” NPF Board director Chris Voller said.

“We want police focused on keeping people safe and doing the right at the time, not focused on concerns with a process that may not be serving the police, nor the public, with the protracted and untimely circumstance, seven and a half years is just unacceptable for this outcome.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta police watchdog to investigate Prince George RCMP'
Alberta police watchdog to investigate Prince George RCMP

In a statement, the BC Prosecution Service said it strives to lay charges and bring cases to trial as quickly as possible, but some cases are prolonged by “unavoidable circumstances.”

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“Although the initial Report to Crown Counsel was originally submitted in June, 2018, the charge assessment process was significantly delayed due to the complexity of the issues, the volume of initial disclosure, BCPS requests for further information, and subsequent receipt and analysis of additional disclosure,” spokesperson Dan McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin added that COVID-19 further delayed the swearing of charges, and that a variety of pre-trial matters had to be dealt with before the trial itself began in October 2021.

“The complexities of the case that became apparent during assessment contributed to the length of the trial,” he added. “The trial itself took 43 days to complete and was delayed on several occasions to accommodate several mid-trial applications, the unavailability of counsel, complexities of court scheduling, and witness availability.”

The BCPS said the Crown concluded its case, while evidence from the final defence witness was heard in April 2023.

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