A Carcross RCMP officer who admitted to assaulting an intoxicated, handcuffed passenger in the back of a police vehicle has received a conditional discharge.
That means if Const. Jason Potter completes his nine months’ probation, 40 community service hours and other conditions laid out by the court he will not have a criminal record.
Potter’s sentencing hearing in Carcross lasted two days last week. Judge Heino Lilles sentenced Potter Friday. The judge said he would be providing written reasons in the next few weeks so the community can understand why he made the decision he did.
The News listened to part of the audio recording of the hearing.
Lilles’s sentence is about midway between what the Crown and defence had been asking for. The Crown wanted Potter to get a suspended sentence. That would have meant similar conditions to what he is facing now but he would have a criminal record.
Potter’s lawyers asked for an absolute discharge.
Potter pleaded guilty to assaulting Duke Beattie on May 15, 2015.
After arresting him in Carcross, Potter and another officer were driving Beattie to Whitehorse for processing. Potter pulled over, got out of the car, opened the back door and assaulted Beattie. The assault lasted 38 seconds.
Crown prosecutor Peter La Prairie says Potter punched Beattie and grabbed him by the throat. While there was clearly an assault, the defence denies those details of what happened. A video only shows Potter’s back when he’s on top of Beattie.
La Prairie argued police officers need to be held to a high standard. The fact that Potter was in a position of authority at the time of the assault is an aggravating factor in this “breach of trust case,” he said.
“The victim here is Mr. Beattie.”
Potter reported what happened that night to his superiors. He was placed on administrative duties first in Carcross and then in Whitehorse.
It’s not clear exactly what Beattie said ahead of the assault. Potter’s lawyer noted that a transcript of that night has 226 instances where the conversation has been deemed “inaudible.”
It has been suggested that Beatty threatened Potter’s wife and family.
For much of the hearing in Carcross Potter’s lawyers talked about the struggles being an RCMP officer in a small detachment in a small community.
Officers live in the community with the people they protect and sometimes arrest, said Potter’s co-counsel John Cliffe.
“The fact-on-the-ground reality is that this is not some Vancouver city police officer that lives out in the Fraser Valley,” he said.
Cliffe described what happened as momentary “anger and rage” that had been building up over time.
In an affidavit, Const. Dan Rouleau, the other Carcross officer in the police car that night, describes times when he has answered his door holding his service pistol behind his back.
Before the assault both officers had received permission from the RCMP to keep their service weapons at home.
“Again, why? Someone is satisfied that there are concerns for the personal safety of the members of the RCMP here in the community at that particular point in time prior to May 15, 2015,” Cliffe said.
Both officers had security cameras set up so that they could monitor their homes while at work.
A nine-foot fence was built surrounding Potter’s house.
About six months after the assault the RCMP treated the windows of the Carcross detachment so that people could not see inside.
Potter had already been disciplined by an RCMP internal code of conduct hearing, the court heard.
He has apologized to Beattie and forfeited 20 days of pay, about $7,000. He won’t be eligible for promotion for the next two years, and he won’t be able to return to Carcross.
Working in Carcross was “unrealistically heavy,” said Cliffe, but Potter was still committed to his job. The stress was overtaking him and he wasn’t realizing it, the lawyer said.
He has been getting counselling ever since, the court heard.
Before the hearing ended Potter addressed the court. He said he sincerely regrets what happened and feels like he has let down his family, the RCMP and the community of Carcross.
“I am sorry.”
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