Officer says he feared for his life

By Frank Armstrong
Local News - Thursday, September 02, 2004 @ 07:00

A Kingston police officer testified yesterday he feared for his life when he pulled his gun last year on two unarmed teenagers.

In his first public comments about the March 24, 2003, incident, Const. Clint Wills said at a disciplinary hearing he feared Mark Wallen might be a dangerous, gun-toting man who was wanted by police when Wallen refused to obey Wills’ command to stay still.

“My concern was he was reaching into his coat for a weapon – a crow bar, a pry bar, or a knife,” Wills testified.

Wills is charged under the Police Act with unnecessary or unlawful arrest and excessive use of force after the incident. Wills stopped Mark Wallen, who was then 19, and Adrian Parkes, who was 17, and held a gun on them while they were on their way home from basketball practice.

Fellow Kingston Police officer Curtis Borel also faces a charge of unnecessary or unlawful arrest for helping Wills arrest the teens.

The incident was one of a number of situations that sparked a furious public debate in Kingston about alleged racial profiling by police.

Wallen and Parkes, who are black, have testified they were walking home along Kingscourt Avenue from Queen Elizabeth College and Vocational Institute when Wallen pulled them over in his cruiser, then held a gun on Wallen when Wallen refused to take his hands out of his pockets.

When Borel arrived, both teens were handcuffed and searched, then released without charges.

Wallen testified at a previous day of the hearing that he didn’t co-operate because police have pulled him over several times for no reason and he felt he was being harassed again.

In March 2001, Wallen and his 12-year-old brother, Andrew, were forced from their father’s Mercedes by police at gunpoint and made to kneel on Armstrong Road. The two were released after police, responding to a 911 call, realized they had the wrong suspects.

Wills, 31, told the tribunal yesterday he found Wallen and Parkes after receiving a tip from from a man in the parking lot of the Mac’s convenience store at Stephen and Division streets at around 7:50 p.m.

The man, who was in his late 30s or early 40s and had a mullet hairstyle, approached Wills’s cruiser and told him two men dressed in dark clothes and carrying gym bags were looking into cars on Kingscourt Avenue, Wills said.

The street is in a high-crime area, where vehicle break-ins and car thefts are commonplace.

If Wills went right away, the man told him, he would find the men close to Concession Street.

In his hurry to get to the scene, Wills said he took off without asking the man’s name.

On Kingscourt, Wills spotted two figures in dark clothing, carrying gym bags, just where the man at the store said they would be.

They were walking south on the right side of the road on a poorly lighted section of the street as he drove north.

Wills said he pulled up beside them, rolled down his passenger window and said, “Hey guys, do you mind if I talk to you for a second?”

Parkes looked up at him and for a second Wills said he thought the younger man was going to stop. But then Wallen said something to him and the two pressed on.

Wills said he spoke in a friendly tone.

“I find this type of approach works for me,” he said. “I find if you start barking at people it turns them off right away and it doesn’t open anything for discussion.”

When the young men refused to stop, Wallen said that made him suspect that they were the people who had supposedly been looking into cars. He said he wondered if they would take off, so he got out of his car and again said he needed to talk to them.

But they kept walking, so he said he asked them to stop a third time.

They finally stopped and Wallen asked if they were being arrested, Wills said.

He said he told them he just wanted to ask them a few questions and then began to explain that he’d had a report of two men matching their description.

But before he could finish, he said Wallen blurted: “What, black?”

Wills said he completed his explanation, but it didn’t appear to satisfy Wallen, who responded: “Man, you are a lying, racist cop.”

Wills told the tribunal that he had no idea the two teens were black until he pulled up close to them. He also said the tipster at the Mac’s hadn’t specified the skin colour of the two men who were looking into cars.

Wills said he tried to ask Wallen and Parkes their names. Parkes managed to say his first name before Wallen put a hand on his chest and told his friend he didn’t have to give his name because he hadn’t done anything wrong.

When he asked Wallen his name, he said, Wallen told him it was none of his business.

Surprised by Wallen’s hostility, Wills said he called for backup.

Wills’s suspicions were heightened because he had received two warnings from headquarters telling officers to look out for a 31-year-old mulatto man who carried a handgun and was accompanied by a pit bull and a tall, white woman.

Wills said he thought Wallen looked like he was in his mid-20s and he figured if Wills was the man with a warrant on his head, he could be walking around without his dog and the woman.

Wills said he asked Wallen what his problem was and Wallen responded that he was the problem.

“He said, ‘You, racist cop, are my problem,’ ” Wills said.

Wills said he then asked Wallen if there was a warrant for his arrest, but Wallen refused to give him his name so he could not check.

He said he asked Wallen and Parkes to take their hands out of their pockets and Parkes did, but Wallen didn’t budge.

Wills said he asked a second time and then a third time, this time using the word “please.”

Wallen refused, shouting at Wills, Wills said.

It was then, he said, that he began to fear for his safety.

“Here I am on a dark street by myself, I don’t know if one or both of these guys are one of these males described [in the alert] and I’m having quite a bit of hostility from Mr. Wallen,” Wills testified.

“I wanted to see their hands. If I could see their hands I would know they didn’t have anything in their hands that could hurt me.”

At that point, Wills said, Wallen began to move his right hand across his body to reach into his unzipped jacket, which bulged.

In earlier testimony, the tribunal learned the bulge was merely a CD player, but Wills said yesterday he thought it might be a weapon.

He said he unholstered his handgun and pointed it at the ground, not at Wallen as the two young men previously testified.

He said his hands might have been shaking.

“I was nervous. I was thinking ... this one male is going to come at me,” Wills said. “I didn’t know if he had a gun in his pocket, a knife, or a pry bar.”

Wills said Wallen’s actions made him feel more than ever that the pair had been breaking into cars and he feared for his life. With the gun out, Wills said Wallen finally listened to him and raised both hands.

Wallen’s left hand held a silver cellphone while the other was empty.

When he realized Wallen wasn’t holding anything dangerous, Wills said he holstered his gun and pulled out his flashlight. Shining it on the teens, he said he kept one hand on his baton and the other on his pepper spray.

“I was prepared for a struggle,” Wills said.

In previous testimony, Wallen and Parkes said Wills shined the light in their faces, but Wills said he focused the beam on their waists.

Wills said Wallen moved toward him and he ordered the young man not to move.

“I was concerned about him possibly taking me because he said, ‘I’m free to go wherever I want,’ ” Wills said.

Then officer Borel arrived.

Wills said he advised Borel of what had happened, then asked Borel to deal with Wallen.

Borel is black and Wills said he thought it would be better for Borel to deal with the angry teen.

Wills said he told Parkes that he was going to detain him for a search.

He said he handcuffed Parkes and the young man co-operated as he patted him down and searched his bag for weapons, stolen items or equipment that could have been used to break into cars.

When Wills was alone with Parkes, Parkes told him he and Wallen were just coming home from a basketball practice. Wills said Parkes explained he tried to tell this earlier to the officer, but his friend stopped him.

Parkes told him Wallen had some bad experiences with police.

When Wills and Borel were satisfied the young men hadn’t been breaking into any cars, they released them. Wallen asked for their names and badge numbers as he and Parkes left.

Later that night, Donna Wallen lodged a complaint at the police station on her son’s behalf.

After letting Wallen and Parkes go, Wills and Borel checked out the cars on the street and found no evidence of any break-ins.

About 20 minutes later, Wills phoned Parkes’s mother, Wanda Parkes, on his cellphone and told her about the incident – police policy when an officer detains a minor.

Wanda Parkes told him her sons and husband had been pulled over several times by police and Wills said she suggested he had stopped her son and Wallen because they were black.

He said he explained the situation to her and felt that they finished their conversation without animosity.

Under questioning yesterday by his lawyer, Harry Black, Wills also described a May 30 run-in with Wallen at the Hub.

Wills was called to the entertainment district at Princess and Division streets at 2:50 a.m. to do crowd control.

While arresting a man in front of the Brass tavern, he said he heard someone say, “That’s the racist cop,” or “That’s the racist cowboy.”

When he looked up, he said he saw Wallen with a group of people. He radioed Const. Mike Seymour nearby and asked him to come because an investigation into Wallen’s conduct March 24 was underway and he wanted a witness.

Before Seymour arrived, Wills said Wallen put his hands at his sides as if he were wearing a coat and taunted Wills, daring him to make him take his hands out of his pockets.

Wills said Wallen took his hands out of his pockets, formed them into a handgun shape and said, “Blap, blap, blap” as he took mock aim at Wills.

Then Wallen put himself in a mock search position at the front wall of the Brass, he said.

A crowd had gathered around so Wills stepped out of his cruiser and told Seymour and another officer to leave.

“It’s not worth it. Let’s go,” Wills said he told the other officers.

As he drove away, he said he heard Wallen say, “Get out of here, cowboy cop.”

Under cross-examination, Wills told prosecutor Lynda Bordeleau he wished he’d taken the name of the man who tipped him off about the men supposedly looking into cars.

Wills said he’d offered to the police department’s professional standards officer, Staff Sgt. Antje McNeely, to get a surveillance videotape from the Mac’s that would have shown the man, but McNeely said she would get it.

By the time she approached Mac’s, however, the tape had been erased.

From now on, Wills said, he takes the names of tipsters.

Bordeleau pointed out that Wills didn’t mention that Wallen called him a racist cop in his original police notes. She asked him why and Wills said his notes are merely a synopsis of his experience and don’t contain a lot of detail.

He suggested he would have written in more detail if he knew what was going to happen.

Bordeleau pointed out that Wills’s original notes say Wallen had his hands in his pockets while Wills said in a later statement and in court yesterday that Wallen’s right hand was outside his pocket and then swept across him towards the bulge in his jacket.

In her cross-examination, Bordeleau pointed out Wills didn’t write anything about the warrant for the armed mulatto man in his original police notes even though he said it was a major factor behind his uneasiness with Wallen and Parkes.

Wills responded that he doesn’t tend to write reminders like that in his police note pad.

He said he didn’t consider using other force, like his baton or pepper spray, to get Wallen to comply to his demand to stay still because he didn’t think they could ensure his safety. He said he handcuffed Parkes because he didn’t know if he carried any weapons.

While under questioning by his lawyer, Wills told the tribunal his father was a police officer in the Niagara region for 31 years and that he had always wanted to be a police officer, but went into the Correctional Service of Canada and served at Kingston Penitentiary for seven years because he felt he was too young. He said he rose quickly through the ranks and became a supervisor for his last four years at the federal prison.

Wills testified that he has been involved in murder cases, riots and hostage-takings at KP.

One time, he said, he was ordered to shoot an inmate who had taken a hostage, but he didn’t fire because he could have hit the hostage.

After Wills testified, Borel, 32, took the stand. He testified that Wills is not a racist and that he told Wallen so.

“Absolutely not,” he responded when asked the question by his lawyer, Mike Epstein.

He said Wills is a good police officer and that he would have acted the same as Wills in the same circumstances.

Borel said handcuffing Wallen and Parkes was the right thing to do. He said Wallen and Parkes were detained, not arrested and it was justified.

The hearing ended yesterday before the lawyers could give their final arguments. Adjudicator Gregory Connolley said he was too tired to continue after six hours of testimony.

“If I am going to provide total fairness to these officers I have to be at the top of my game,” Connolley told Black, who wanted the hearing to finish yesterday, no matter how late.

Instead, the lawyers will submit their final arguments in paper and Connolley will give his decision on Nov. 22.