No charges laid against officer seen striking man during arrest

No charges will be laid against a Whitehorse RCMP officer who struck and held a man in a chokehold while trying to arrest him at a house party in Whitehorse in April 2015.

No charges will be laid against a Whitehorse RCMP officer who struck and held a man in a chokehold while trying to arrest him at a house party in Whitehorse in April 2015.

There was no reasonable prospect of conviction, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada said today.

Yesterday the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team released parts of its investigation.

The use of force, while significant, was not unreasonable given the situation, ASIRT executive director Susan Hughson said during a press conference in Whitehorse.

A video showing the officer trying to handcuff a man lying on the kitchen floor at a home in Whitehorse went viral last year, prompting a protest in front of police headquarters.

But that video only showed parts of the man’s physical contact with the officer, Hughson said.

ASIRT investigates police use of force resulting in injuries or death.

Throughout the investigation ASIRT has refused to name anyone involved, including the officer, citing its own policies.

Joshua Skookum, 27, was charged on April 5, 2015, with assaulting a police officer, resisting arrest and two counts of failure to comply with bail conditions.

The charges were withdrawn on June 10, 2015.

Publicly available court documents identify Const. Nathan Menard as the officer involved.

A full investigation was done by ASIRT on top of the RCMP’s, Hughson said.

Every witness was re-interviewed and the team selected an elder from Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation to act as an impartial observer.

The elder was satisfied with how ASIRT carried out the investigation, Hughson said.

She admitted the video was difficult to watch.

“It clearly depicts violent acts that would be disturbing to any reasonable person,” she said.

“(But) one must be careful not to allow the natural and almost instinctive reaction to the video to have a disproportionate influence on the necessary objective and unbiased assessment of the facts.”

The Criminal Code allows police to use force in certain circumstances, she said.

The investigation shed some light on what happened that night.

Police responded to a 911 call on April 5, 2015, at around 1 a.m.

A man using a false name complained about noises at a residence, telling the dispatcher there were people yelling and fighting.

The police knew that home from previous violent incidents and one homicide.

The officer responded alone, according to ASIRT.

Once outside, he heard people yelling inside and what he thought was something dropped or thrown to the ground.

After entering he realized there had been a house party and guests had been drinking.

When he reached the kitchen, he found a man – Skookum – covering his head with a hoodie, hands in his pockets, trying to hide.

He asked for Skookum’s ID.

Once Menard radioed the name Skookum gave, which turned out to be false, the man became nervous and tried to flee, ASIRT alleges.

Skookum, who was clearly intoxicated, according to the officer, told ASIRT investigators he was on violation of his bail conditions when Menard confronted him.

Skookum came in contact with Menard, almost knocking him to the floor, according to investigators.

Menard grabbed Skookum’s arm, and Skookum elbowed the officer in the face.

Skookum told investigators that was accidental.

They both struggled and went to the floor, which is when the video recording started.

“I’m doing nothing,” Skookum is heard screaming in the video.

Menard, who is on top of Skookum, strikes him in the face, prompting onlookers to yell at him. According to ASIRT, Menard “delivered an elbow strike to the face/jaw area with his right arm.”

Skookum actively resisted, ASIRT said.

The officer tells people to back off before taking Skookum in a chokehold: he wraps his right arm around Skookum’s throat while his left arm pushes Skookum’s head to the floor.

One person later threatens to kick the officer in the head.

Menard manages to get Skookum on his stomach and eventually handcuffs him.

Federal prosecutors sought an expert opinion on the use of the chokehold – called vascular neck restraint -before deciding not to lay charges, Hughson said.

She noted police officers have the authority to enter a residence without a warrant under their duty to preserve life. In this case Menard was checking on the occupants’ safety.

“When you’re looking at the circumstances and judging his decision to enter the residence it’s subjective to a reasonableness standard,” she said.

“It’s one of those cases where it fell on the line.”

The video prompted a protest in front of Whitehorse RCMP’s headquarters on Fourth Avenue last year.

The chief of the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation, Eric Fairclough, told the News at the time he was concerned about the use of force by the officer.

The fact Menard went in alone – potentially at risk of harm – was the force’s call, Hughson said.

“You have to be mindful these officers make these decisions in a split-second,” she said.

“If he errs on the wrong side and somebody in that house is injured, that’s not going to end well.”

ASIRT doesn’t make recommendations but shared its investigation with Yukon RCMP.

The News asked Yukon RCMP whether any changes in procedures or officer training would be implemented as a result of the investigation but did not hear back before press time this morning.

Contact Pierre Chauvin at

pierre.chauvin@yukon-news.com

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