Two Watson Lake RCMP officers charged with assault were acquitted on Tuesday.
Constables Shawn McLaughlin, 33, and Graham Belak, 30, were found not guilty a little more than a year after a woman made a complaint that the officers drugged and raped her in Belak’s Watson Lake home on March 8, 2009.
Both officers hugged and kissed family and friends after Justice Leigh Gower handed down his decision to a packed courtroom. They declined to comment following the decision.
Before Gower entered the room, the mood was tense. People attending the decision shuffled quietly and barely spoke. An awkward moment arose when the Outside lawyers for both the woman and the officers spoke loudly on the speakerphone about the defence lawyers’ fishing trip on the weekend.
When Gower finally walked in and began explaining his decision, he said the case all came down to credibility.
Did he believe the woman or did he believe the officers? Both sides offered wildly different versions of what happened on the night of the incident.
The woman, who cannot be named due to a publication ban, alleged she was drugged and then attacked by both officers. They allege the sexual intercourse was consensual and that the woman was conscious the whole time.
In the end, Gower found over a dozen reasons not to believe the alleged victim. And he heaped praise on the officers for providing their testimony without any major inconsistencies.
Judging credibility is not a science, Gower said. He considered everything from the way the witnesses conducted themselves on the stand to the way their stories changed over the course of the investigation.
Gower found the woman’s testimony to be choppy, defensive and argumentative, he said.
The woman testified that she had a good knowledge of date rape drugs and she knew there was only a short time frame before the drugs were out of her system.
After the incident, the woman walked past a hospital and didn’t file her complaint until 24 hours after the alleged rape.
Considering that a toxicology test would have been the best evidence against the officers, Gower was confounded by the woman’s decision not to get tested earlier.
She said her critical thinking skills were impaired after the event and that she was afraid McLaughlin and Belak would be dispatched to respond to the complaint.
It’s inconceivable that either officer would have been dispatched to respond, said Gower.
The woman’s claim that she was unable to speak when she passed the hospital, due to the date rape drugs in her system, was also questionable, said Gower.
The woman testified that she couldn’t talk when allegedly Belak began having intercourse with her. But she didn’t mention having the same trouble speaking during two other episodes she remembers that evening, said Gower.
The judge also accepted the evidence of Dr. Danielle Sergeeva, the doctor who performed the rape kit on the woman.
Sergeeva testified that the woman offered two different stories on the morning she decided to come forward. The first story involved being raped on the floor. The second time, the woman added that she had been raped on the couch, too.
Sean Walsh, the first person the woman told about the incident, also remembers hearing two different stories.
In the first story, the woman was hesitant about her ordeal, saying, “I think Graham raped me, I don’t think Shawn did anything.” Later that day, she was certain that Belak had raped her and that McLaughlin played some kind of role, too.
Gower didn’t believe the woman’s reasons why she didn’t leave when McLaughlin pressed himself against her from behind. She testified that she felt an erection but she didn’t decide to leave. There was a 30- to 45-second lapse between that moment and the sexual attack, said the woman.
Gower found that story to be internally inconsistent and illogical.
The woman, for example, had very distinct memories about some specifics that evening, like the furniture in Belak’s bedroom – a room she claims never to have entered. Her inability to provide detailed recollections of the rest of the evening doesn’t jive with those vivid memories she provided in court, said Gower.
Finally, during her first interviews with police after making the complaint, the woman testified that her husband was “pissed” when she came home after the incident.
But during last week’s trial, she changed her story and said her husband wasn’t angry when she came home, just upset. She also denied that he swore at her, which conflicted with her previous evidence.
The officers, on the other hand, had only minor discrepancies in their testimony. Gower relied a lot on the fact that their stories didn’t conflict.
He also didn’t believe that the officers would take the risk of drugging a woman who, by the accounts of many witnesses at the party before the incident, was sexually interested in both officers.
The officers are still facing serious repercussions from the police force itself, including the possibility of losing their jobs.
Both officers have been served with an allegation that they contravened the RCMP code of conduct. Under the RCMP Act, any officer who breaches the code can be disciplined, said RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Don Rogers.
McLaughlin and Belak will have to appear before an adjudication board that will be presided over by three RCMP officers.
It’s like a quasi-judicial hearing, where both the RCMP and the officers will file evidence and listen to witnesses.
The punishments range from a written reprimand to dismissal.
A date has not been set for the hearing nor has a location been found. The hearing will be open to public, said Rogers.
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