Toronto police officer not guilty in violent arrest
Const. Christian Dobbs was charged following a probe into his arrest of
Raymond Costain outside the King Edward Hotel in the early hours of April
Raymond Costain, left, shown shortly after his arrest in 2010, and Toronto
police Const. Christian Dobbs, right. (TORONTO
STAR FILE PHOTOS)
Wed., July 20, 2016
A Toronto police officer accused
of using excessive force during
a videotaped arrest in 2010 was found not guilty of assault by a Superior
Court judge on Wednesday.
Toronto Police Service Const. Christian Dobbs, 40, stood to hug his smiling
lawyers and supporters after the verdict was delivered in a downtown
“It’s been six years,” said Dobbs’s defence counsel, Peter Brauti, outside
the courthouse. “He’s just relieved that it’s over.”
Dobbs was charged with assault causing bodily harm for the violent arrest of
Raymond Costain, a 33-year-old father of three who works as a culinary
technician at George Brown College. Video evidence from the dashboard camera
of a police cruiser showed Dobbs hammering his arm down on Costain 12
consecutive times as he lay on the street outside the King Edward Hotel.
Costain is obscured from view by the hood of the car.
Police photos taken shortly after Costain’s arrest show his face had been
cut and bruised. He told the Star Wednesday he still suffers from
“psychological issues” stemming from the incident.
The cop’s acquittal comes at a time of heightened anger over police
violence. A series of deadly incidents involving law enforcement has roiled
the United States in recent weeks. Police have been attacked and killed in
Dallas and Baton Rouge, La., while images of dying black men who were shot
by cops have been widely circulated online.
Toronto, too, has experienced this tension, with the Black Lives Matter
movement staging protests over police presence at the Pride Parade and
denouncing a decision not to charge the officer who shot and killed Andrew
Loku, a mentally ill man who wielded a hammer at a west-end apartment last
Costain, who lives in Toronto, said he doesn’t believe race played any role in
his altercation with Dobbs. “I’m not trying to play the race card,” he said when
asked. “That could’ve happened to anyone.”
The crowded courtroom was subdued before Justice Bonnie Croll’s verdict, with
the silence broken only by the whoosh of the air conditioning and the sporadic
rustling of paper. Dobbs sat at the front of the room in a dark suit. When
Brauti entered in his legal robes, Dobbs stood to greet him. “How are you
feeling?” Brauti asked.
Dobbs quietly uttered, “Good,” and moments later, in Croll’s reading of her
verdict, it was clear he would be acquitted.
Croll concluded that Costain’s testimony was unreliable and contradictory, with
differing accounts of how much he drank that night, as well as his lack of
memory about a highway collision before the arrest. She added that although the
“optics” of the arrest video are “shocking,” it doesn’t prove the officer’s
guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
“There are serious issues about Mr. Costain’s evidence,” the judge said. “One
must conclude that an oath to tell the truth is meaningless to Mr. Costain.”
Costain said after the verdict that any changes in his version of events over
the years can be explained by the amount of time that passed since the incident.
“I’m disappointed,” he told the Star. “I was kind of hoping people would be held
The legal saga stretches to the early hours of April 12, 2010, when Dobbs took
down Costain outside the historic hotel on King St. E. Costain originally faced
charges that included impaired driving and resisting arrest. But those
allegations were stayed in March 2013, when provincial court Justice Ford
Clements delivered a searing condemnation of police actions on the night of the
Clements ruled that Dobbs used “unnecessary, unjustified and excessive” force in
arresting Costain and that the officers who testified against Costain seemed
“indifferent to the truth.” Clements said, “This is unlawful extrajudicial
punishment that will shock the public.”
Dobbs was charged with assault three months later.
During that second trial, Dobbs testified that he believed Costain had tried to
run down a police officer in his car and that he may have had a weapon. Croll
ruled both assertions were reasonable given what the constable knew at the time.
As Croll outlined, Costain was stopped by police after he parked his badly
damaged car outside the hotel and tried to hail a cab. Costain testified that he
had been drinking, and that his car was struck from behind in a hit-and-run
accident, Croll said.
Dobbs, meanwhile, testified that there was a call on the police radio that a
damaged car driven by a black man was speeding dangerously down Yonge St., Croll
said. Dobbs and his partner found Costain outside the King Edward and approached
to make an arrest, Croll said.
Dobbs claimed that Costain refused his demand to “get down” and took a swing at
him, which Costain denied, Croll said. Dobbs then struck Costain twice, brought
him to the ground and delivered 10 consecutive blows, followed by a pause and
then two more, Croll said. The dashboard camera video shows the 12 strikes.
Dobbs’s defence lawyer argued this was in line with his “pain for compliance”
training, as Costain was resisting attempts to put him in handcuffs, Croll said.
Dobbs testified that he used “elbow strikes” near Costain’s left shoulder area,
In her decision Wednesday, Croll rejected the Crown’s argument that Dobbs’s body
would have been jostling in the video had Costain been resisting arrest. She
compared a freeze-frame analysis of the video to “Monday morning
quarterbacking,” and said the video leaves “an evidentiary vacuum” around what
Costain was doing as Dobbs rained blows on him.
Leora Shemesh, who represented Costain at his trial in 2013, said she wasn’t
surprised by Wednesday’s verdict. “The record that was put before Justice Croll
ended with a credibility contest between Costain and a police officer,” she
said. “They were really two different trials — same conduct, but just displayed
Brauti welcomed Croll’s verdict and echoed her statement that the video provided
an incomplete picture of the incident. “It showed slivers of what took place,”
he said after Wednesday’s verdict.
Several metres away, Costain stood in the shade of some trees in his grey suit.
He said he felt let down by the judge’s decision, but admitted some relief that
the case had ended.
“I’m just going to continue to focus on my kids and my career,” he said. “It’s
been a long run.”
With files from Peter Small