Reasonable Use of Force During Okotoks RCMP Arrest

ASIRT was directed to investigate the circumstances surrounding the Feb. 14, 2016, arrest of a 45-year-old woman by a member of the Okotoks Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), during which she sustained a fracture to her left arm.

During the course of her arrest, an officer used force on two occasions: once at the roadside and once at the RCMP detachment. ASIRT examined both instances during the course of its investigation.

Shortly after 8:30 p.m. on Feb. 14, 2016, RCMP received a complaint about an impaired driver southbound on Highway 2A. Police were advised that the Ford Focus vehicle had nearly collided with the caller’s vehicle, and that the woman driving had been observed drinking from what appeared to be a clear liquor bottle. The Ford Focus was reportedly swerving all over the road, at speeds between 70 and 110 km/h in a 100 km/h zone.

The woman driving the Focus turned off the highway and entered Okotoks, where she was observed by an RCMP member on patrol at the intersection of 338 Avenue and 32 Street. The lone officer was driving a fully-marked police vehicle and activated his lights and siren to execute a traffic stop. The woman in the Focus made a wide southbound turn on 32 Street, forcing drivers in the northbound lane off the road. The Focus driver continued south and was seen veering far into the left lane then over onto the right-side shoulder before correcting. The woman pulled over the Focus almost a kilometre from where the officer initiated the traffic stop, and ran over the curb in the process.

The officer started an impaired driving investigation. He formed the opinion that the woman’s ability to operate a motor vehicle was impaired by a drug or alcohol and tried to place the woman under arrest. At the time, the woman and officer were standing on a busy roadway with vehicles passing. The woman tried to pull away from the officer, resulting in him calling for assistance and using a “straight arm bar” technique to take her to the ground and place her in handcuffs. In addition to being under arrest, the officer believed that failing to contain the intoxicated woman would increase the risk of her accidentally stepping into traffic. The officer placed the woman in the police vehicle. Video depicts her resisting his efforts to put her in the vehicle, as well as displaying signs of intoxication. Once in the officer’s vehicle, other RCMP units arrived on scene, and the woman was transported to the Okotoks detachment.

Upon arrival at the detachment, police removed the woman’s handcuffs and she was seated in a chair at the guard desk to wait to provide breath samples. On video, the woman is seen leaving the chair and taking back personal belongings that had been seized during booking and placed on a desk. The officer took back the items, prompting the woman to strike the officer’s chest. This led to the officer once again taking the woman to the ground — this time with the assistance of another peace officer. The woman’s glasses were dislodged during the takedown and she sustained a minor cut to the bridge of her nose and she told officers that she was short of breath. The woman was placed back in handcuffs and police called Emergency Medical Services (EMS), who attended and cleaned the laceration and assessed her as fit to return to custody. The woman remained belligerent and uncooperative throughout.

Once returned to the chair, the woman remained in custody until she was placed in another room to provide two breath samples, which returned blood alcohol concentration (BAC) readings of .14 and .12, well above the .08 legal limit for driving. The woman was lodged until the early morning of Feb. 15, when she was released from custody. The woman went to a hospital later that day and was treated for a fracture in her left arm near the shoulder.

Based on the information provided to him by the civilian complainant and his own observations, the subject officer was lawfully entitled to conduct a traffic stop on the woman and subsequently to place her under arrest for impaired driving-related offences. As described by multiple witnesses, the woman was intoxicated, argumentative, angry and belligerent. At the roadside, the woman was lawfully under arrest and the use of force was necessary for the officer to carry out his lawful duty to arrest and contain her. When considering factors such as the subject officer working alone, without assistance, and the close proximity to vehicular traffic, the force used cannot be said to be unreasonable in the circumstances. Similarly, the force he used in the detachment cellblock was in direct response to her assault. This force cannot be said to be unreasonable. In both cases, the force was brief, minimal, without resort to a weapon, and was used for the purpose of gaining control of the woman, who was physically and verbally uncooperative with police.

Having reviewed the investigation in its entirety, executive director Susan Hughson, QC, has determined that there are no reasonable grounds to believe that the officer committed any criminal offence and, as such, no charges will be laid. While it is extremely unfortunate that the woman was injured during these events, it was not the result of the use of excessive or unwarranted force. The woman later entered guilty pleas to impaired operation of a motor vehicle and resisting arrest.

ASIRT’s mandate is to effectively, independently and objectively investigate incidents involving police that have resulted in serious injury or death to any person, as well as serious or sensitive allegations of police misconduct.