Police supervisor denies racial link to Wills's action

By Sue Yanagisawa
Local News - Wednesday, November 03, 2004 @ 07:00

Staff Sgt. Mike Attwood told Const. Clint Wills’s Police Act disciplinary hearing yesterday that when he testified in May he never intended to suggest the constable wanted to lay criminal charges against Simon Wilson because of his race.

Wills, 31, was charged with excessive use of force after Wilson, a black man who is now 21, complained about his arrest in the early hours of June 8, 2003 outside Burger King in the Hub.

Wilson contended that he was targeted because of the colour of his skin, an allegation that was investigated by the Kingston Police department’s professional standards officer and determined to be without foundation. Staff Sgt. Antje McNeely decided that there were grounds, however, to charge Wills with using excessive force over the way he handled Wilson after the then 19-year-old was handcuffed.

The hearing has been told that Wills and Const. Paul Doak were working in the Hub that June weekend night on paid duty, a system that supplies off-duty officers to keep the peace in the busy nightclub area.

Around 3:15 a.m. the two police officers were standing in front of Stages nightclub when they were tipped that a fight was about to break out at Burger King and walked over to investigate. They found a couple of men sitting on the edge of a flower bed eating hamburgers and Wilson and his friend, Darcy Knox, 20, standing over them. Wilson was yelling at one of the men and wanted to fight with him. He’s admitted that he struck the man once before the police arrived.

Wills and Doak told the pair to move on and Knox was willing but Wilson wouldn’t, according to both police officers. They arrested him and charged him with public intoxication – but not without a struggle, part of it in front of a crowd of bystanders who were hurling accusations of racism and racial profiling at the police.

Attwood’s testimony, which came late on the opening day of the hearing in May, surprised Wills’s lawyer Harry Black and prosecutor Lynda Bordeleau: He told the hearing that Wills wanted to charge Wilson with more serious criminal offences because he had to use force to arrest Wilson, the incident happened in the Hub, because Wilson was black, and because Wills believed Wilson was a friend of Mark Wallen, another black teenager who had already filed a complaint against him.

Harry Black wanted to recall Attwood when the hearing resumed in July to explore those statements. By then Attwood was off on medical leave, however, and the two lawyers were at odds over whether the defence was entitled to another crack at him.

Attwood was recalled briefly yesterday before Wills took the stand and evidence in the hearing concluded. Attwood told the hearing: “I want to be very clear, Clint [Wills] told me he took a lot of abuse from bystanders in the Hub” and the issue of race was raised in that context. The staff sergeant said Wills was “concerned that a bystander would make a complaint,” especially because of his ongoing problem with Wallen’s claim that he was racially profiled.

Wills, in his testimony, expanded on the issue of context. After Wilson was handcuffed, he told the hearing, he “grounded” his prisoner to go and check on his partner, Doak, who had disappeared down the alley beside Burger King after Wilson’s friend, Darcy Knox.

When he returned to where he’d left Wilson, he said a largely hostile crowd of 20 to 30 people had gathered and there were a lot of people swearing and “there was a lot of chanting, a lot of screaming.” He said Wilson was “getting the crowd worked up” and he heard him yell, “This is the racist bull---- you read about in the papers.”

Then, as he was putting Wilson into a cruiser, he said Wilson’s girlfriend, Asha Perry, was “yelling and screaming and crying,” and she asked him if he’d ever heard of Mark Wallen. When he said yes, Wills said she pointed and told him “that’s his best friend. Then she looked at my name tag and said, ‘You’re the one. You’re the guy. You’re in trouble now.’ ”

Wills told the hearing he thought Wilson’s behaviour that night warranted charges of assault, resisting arrest and causing a public disturbance. But the two staff sergeants on duty, Attwood and Alex Forsyth, over-ruled him. Given the temper of the crowd, he said he also thought it likely a complaint would be lodged and that it would lead to an investigation by Sgt. McNeely. He said he told the staff sergeants he planned to challenge their call because he didn’t want her asking why, if this was such a serious situation, only a public intoxication charge laid.

Prosecutor Bordeleau’s argument for conviction actually centred on the manner in which Wills said he “grounded” the handcuffed Wilson before going to help his partner.

Wills contradicted the evidence of earlier witnesses who said that he lifted the six-foot-one, 180- pound Wilson off the ground and threw him down face-first, so that his chest and head struck the ground. “I know I don’t have the strength to lift someone Mr. Wilson’s size off the ground,” he told the hearing.

But he said he never had complete control of Wilson after Doak left them to pursue Wilson’s friend Knox, who’d become involved in a confrontation with a security guard working at Burger King that night.

He said he was concerned, because he felt the area was volatile and the alley-way potentially dangerous. “I didn’t have time to negotiate with Mr. Wilson to get on the ground, to negotiate his compliance,” he said. Instead, he claims he used the momentum of Wilson’s resistance to drop him on his buttock and shoulder.

He admitted that he didn’t maintain a hold on him all the way to the ground and probably let him drop the last eight inches. But “it was not an option for me to stay with Mr. Wilson,” he said. “I had to get to my partner. I couldn’t see my partner.”

Adjudicator Robert Fitches will deliver his decision Dec. 14.