Unisex Bandit to learn fate of civil suit today

By Jeremy Ashley
Local News - Friday, October 15, 2004 @ 10:00

The woman who was a man before becoming a bank robber will find out today whether a judge believes she was assaulted by city police officers during her arrest in 1998.

Christine White, also known as the Unisex Bandit, is suing the officers and police organizations that participated in her Nov. 18, 1998 arrest after she held up the Scotiabank at the Quinte Mall and led police on a harrowing, high-speed chase.

White’s roadside arrest brought to an end a crime spree that involved 31 bank robberies stretching from Alberta through Eastern Ontario. She became known as the Unisex Bandit because of her appearance after she underwent a sex change operation in the years prior to the robberies.

Now, in the midst of serving out her 11-year sentence, White is using legal aid provided by the province of Ontario to pay for her legal representation during the civil trial.

In the past, she has used the legal system to sue a number of other agencies for alleged mistreatment, including Corrections Canada officials, doctors who initially treated her at Quinte Regional Detention Centre and Legal Aid Ontario when the service refused to allow her to hire lawyers to sue other organizations and individuals.

In the case involving Belleville police, White says she was assaulted by the officers after her vehicle crashed on an ‘S’ curve on Harrington Road and she surrendered on Nov. 18, 1998.

She also alleges a variety of other transgressions on the part of police, primarily that she sustained several injuries during her arrest, many of which she claims she still suffers from today. White also says medical treatment was not forthcoming following her arrest and she was inappropriately strip searched. White, who is just under six feet with a masculine build, walked into the courtroom wearing leg shackles and handcuffs shortly before court began Thursday. She was also sporting a multi-coloured cardigan, white blouse and tan pants.

Shortly after 9 a.m. Const. Jeff Holt took the stand to be cross-examined by White’s Mississauga-based lawyer, Haig Derushahis, before Justice Roydon Kealey.

Kealey, an Ottawa-area judge, was brought in because the case involved city police officers.

Holt was the first officer to arrive at the scene after White’s car skidded off a sharp bend in Harrington Road on Nov. 18, 1998.

Derushahis picked through the specifics of the scene that unfolded as White got out of her car and was arrested at gunpoint; including how White — whom police initially thought was a man — was holding her firearm (which turned out to be a starter pistol) and how far away the officer was from her while he shouted commands at her to drop her weapon.

Holt said White didn’t initially respond to his demands and after she “eventually dropped” the weapon and started to struggle with officers as she was handcuffed.

During earlier testimony, White claimed she had a temporary black-out as she was arrested and couldn’t recall whether an officer had actually touched her.

Holt, who is a use-of-force trainer with the Belleville Police Service, disagreed with a suggestion by Derushahis that he struck her with his weapon during the arrest.

“I didn’t strike Ms. White, sir,” he responded.

None of the officers who took the stand throughout the proceedings recollected White being assaulted at the hands of police as she was arrested or while in custody.

The method Derushahis used to cross-examine Holt — reviewing certain minute details and potential discrepancies between Holt’s recollection of the six-year-old incident and his notes taken at the time — led Judge Kealey to push the proceedings forward.

“We’re niggling here ... “ he said, interrupting Derushahis. “It’s not a memory contest ... He’s given his evidence on it — then if his notes contradict his evidence, then put it to him.”

Const. Chris Sarles, who was with the former Quinte West Police Service at the time, also arrived at the scene and assisted with White’s arrest.

When asked whether more force than necessary was used as she was brought into custody, her said, “I would like to say that there was ... a very minimal amount of force used in this situation.”

“I believe the first time I touched her was when my weapon touched the back of her head,” Holt recollected of the six-year-old incident.

Belleville police officer Const. Sheri Meeks said White did not complain verbally of any injury to her while she was searched after being brought to the Belleville Police station.

“There were no visible injuries,” Meeks recalled, adding that White appeared to be favouring her right side while the search took place in a secluded room in the Belleville Police station women’s cell area.

Following a short break, court resumed with testimony from Dr. Norton Lithwick, who was hired by White’s lawyers to physically assess her earlier this month.

Lithwick’s subsequent report detailed several minor injuries to White’s body, noting that she still has a limited range of motion with her elbow.

Under cross examination by Belleville lawyer Wilford Menninga, the Lithwick acknowledged that White never told him there was a struggle between her and officers while she was being arrested.

Lithwick’s assessment was also substantially different from similar reports from at least two other physicians.

In a rare move, White was allowed to take the stand for the second time, to clarify what she told doctors.

She said the physician’s reports taken at Belleville hospital shortly after her arrest were wrong and that hospital staff overlooked or failed to make notes about several of her injuries.

During closing submissions, White’s lawyer Derushahis re-emphasized his points about his client’s alleged assault and subsequent injuries.

“Mrs. White was controlled in the way she had a gun pointed at her,” he said, adding that officers did not have to use excessive force to arrest her.

Menninga, meanwhile, referred to the Police Services Act and Criminal Code of Canada which detail the authority of police officers to use force in apprehending a suspect.

“This is not a Rodney King situation ... this is a situation where officers used as much force as necessary — and no more.

“She just robbed a bank, shot at police and was in a high speed chase ... put the situation into context.”

Judge Kealey was expected to hand down his final decision earlier today in the Superior Court of Justice.