Kingston Police officer cleared of misconduct

By Frank Armstrong
Local News - Saturday, December 18, 2004 @ 07:00

A 20-month ordeal that saw a Kingston Police officer charged with misconduct in two separate incidents ended yesterday with his second not-guilty verdict.

An adjudicator ruled that Const. Clint Wills didn’t use excessive force to subdue Simon Wilson, 19, during an early-morning scuffle in downtown Kingston in June 2003.

“This officer was faced with a difficult situation and, in my opinion, did the very best he could do to ensure that he performed his sworn duty,” retired OPP superintendent Robert Fitches said in his decision.

Fitches said the takedown may have looked ugly to the untrained eye, but Wills did what he had to do when he “grounded” the teen – his partner had left him to deal with another scuffle and Wilson was struggling with him while handcuffed, trying to evade arrest.

On Dec. 8, after a lengthy public hearing, a professional misconduct adjudicator found Wills not guilty of excessive force and wrongfully arresting two teenagers just two months before the officer’s run-in with Wilson.

The case decided yesterday related to a meeting between Wilson and Wills in the early hours of June 8, 2003, in front of the former Burger King on Princess Street near Division Street.

Wills was on duty with Const. Paul Doak when a taxi driver suggested they check out some youths in front of the fast-food restaurant who appeared to be on the verge of fighting.

When the officers approached Wilson and his friend, 20-year-old D’Arcy Knox, Wilson was yelling at a young man sitting on the flower box in front of the Burger King and Knox was trying to hold Wilson back.

The officers testified that Wilson appeared drunk, that they could smell alcohol on his breath and that the presence of the police officers didn’t deter him from showing aggression toward the other man.

When Wilson raised his fist at the man on the flower box, the officers arrested him for public intoxication and a scuffle ensued.

Knox then jumped into the fray and he and Doak struggled while Wills tried to restrain Wilson.

Within seconds, Garland Smith, an off-duty Burger King security guard, tried to step in between Knox and Doak. Smith and Knox disappeared down the Burger King drive-through alley while Doak and Wills handcuffed Wilson.

Doak testified that he was worried about Smith and chased him through the alley, where he found him still struggling with Knox.

Wills said he was forced to kick out the back of Wilson’s legs to get him to the ground.

Meanwhile, the post-nightclub crowd started to grow around Wilson and Wills, who was trying to resist arrest.

Wilson’s girlfriend and a hostile crowd of six to 10 of Wilson’s friends began to shout profanities, calling the police pigs and racists, Doak had testified.

In his decision, Fitches said Wills’s actions may or may not have been “textbook,” but he said the officer had to ground Wilson to get control of him because he was alone at the time.

“It has been said that policing can sometimes be a pretty ugly occupation,” Fitches said.

“Techniques such as kicks and strikes are alarming to witnesses, particularly when such techniques are being undertaken by an officer in uniform.

“In situations such as this, when a police officer finds it necessary to apply some amount of force to facilitate the arrest of a person, the picture that emerges for the onlooker is one that is not very attractive and to the untrained eye smacks of brutality.”

Wilson has 30 days to appeal the verdict. He attended the decision at the Holiday Inn with three female family members.

They sat at the front of the hearing room while about a dozen Wills supporters – mostly police officers – filled most of the rest of the visitor chairs.

Wilson refused to comment on the decision.

The four-day hearing started in May and spanned 6½ months. It was twice bogged down so the adjudicator could go over new legal arguments or evidence.

Wills didn’t display any emotion as the adjudicator announced the verdict. The officer sat motionless beside his lawyer, his hands clasped on the table in front of him.

“I wasn’t super, super surprised at the outcome,” he said in an interview afterward. “Anybody who stayed throughout the testimony of the entire trial, I think, was of the same belief that I was.”

Wills said he never wavered from his belief that he handled the incident properly.

“I knew what I did that night was justified and I stood behind that the entire time – I wouldn’t do anything differently,” he said.

Nonetheless, he said he incident and the ensuing attention haven’t been pleasant.

For a long time, Wills said he was switched to a rural beat cruising quiet country roads where there’s little action and little interaction with people.

He said his superiors probably transferred him there to keep him out of the “limelight.”

He didn’t like the move because there’s not much chance to interact with people – something he said he enjoys about his job.

He also didn’t like being accused of being racist.

“It bothered me at first that people might think Clint Wills is a racist, that Clint Wills targets minorities, but then I thought about it ... and anybody who knows me knows I’m professional and that I treat everybody fairly and knows that I’m not a racist,” he said.

He said he also took some verbal abuse from some members of the public who would try to “push things,” he said.

On the other hand, he said he received a lot of support from Kingston residents, including a man he has arrested a number of times.

Things could’ve been worse, he said.

“I’ve always known how it happened – that’s why I’ve always felt good about it so, although it was stressful, it didn’t break me down,” he said.

“I pride myself on professionalism and this is maybe the nature of the business.”

Wills said he didn’t take a single day off work because of the incident and the ensuing attention he received.

After the hearing, he was on his way to court to testify at a domestic assault trial in which he’s the lead investigator. After that, he was going to work to do a night shift, he said.

Sean Bambrick, president of the Kingston Police Association, said the verdict should help officers feel more confident about their work and boost officer morale.

“Officers have been second-guessing themselves ever since all this started,” Bambrick said. “Hopefully these decisions will reinforce what we’re duty-bound to do, which is public safety.”

Prosecutor Lynda Bordeleau said she’d like to see a different, more peaceful process replace the dramatic public hearings.

“This is a very difficult process for the officers and for the complainants,” she said.

Retired Superior Court chief justice Patrick J. LeSage is now conducting a review of the Ontario police complaints mechanism.

Bordeleau said she hopes the review will bring about change in the province.

“I hope we’ll have a new system in place in 2005 where we can actually get the parties together quickly, have a professional mediator and get resolutions without having to put people on the stand and have a formal hearing process,” she said. “I don’t think that serves the interest of the community.”