Update: see previous posts – April 28, 2012 Police Who Lie In the Courts: False Testimony Often Goes Unpunished, April 27, 2012 Police Who Lie In The Courts: National Police Body says Justice System Needs to Act Over Lies, April 27, 2012 Police Who Lie In The Courts: How Police Officers Thwart Justice with False Testimony
Several Niagara Regional Police officers stood roadside, watching as a man allegedly leaned out the passenger window of a passing SUV and hollered the taunt at one of them, Officer Todd Priddle.
The cops did not like it, this sass from Michael Parsons, a local man with a history of police run-ins.
What happened next became the focus of a civil trial in 2009. The police said they properly stopped the Jeep to investigate why Parsons was halfway out the window when he shouted. They said they subdued Parsons, who was aggressive that night and known to police for his history of violence, guns and drugs. Parsons said he was beaten and Tasered for no reason.
Justice C.R. Harris said portions of the officers testimony were “not forthright,” “evasive for self-serving reasons,” and finally: “Their testimony was . . . in some instances pure fiction.”
A Toronto Star investigation has found police officers nationwide have been accused by judges of outright lying, misleading the court or fabricating evidence. The dishonesty comes with little consequence to the officer, particularly in provinces such as Ontario where there is no law or policy requiring a prosecutor or police force to investigate.
Responding to the Star series, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police said the justice system should report courtroom misconduct to the officer’s force.
Two officers in one cruiser sped after Parsons on the December night in 2003, and, less than a kilometre east on Highway 20, also known as Lundy’s Lane, stopped the white Jeep Cherokee, driven by Parsons’ then-fiancée Terri Lynn Ryckman. Three other officers in two cruisers arrived moments later.
Parsons testified one of the officers pulled him from the Jeep and put him in a “rear naked choke hold” — an arm around his throat, another behind his head and a knee in his back. Parsons said that while restrained in a roadside ditch he felt the “pain of shocks” in his scrotum, and the Tasering “just kept going and going.” Then, he said, he was handcuffed and Tasered some more. He was screaming and bucking.
Parsons estimated being Tasered 10 to 15 times.
Here is what the police testified happened: Officer Michael Woodfine, who pulled over the Jeep, and Officer James Tallevi, who tangled with Parsons, testified their suspect came out of the vehicle “animated and angry,” confronted Officer Tallevi standing in a boxer’s “bladed” stance and holding an unknown object in his hand, grappled with Tallevi, pushed him down in the ditch, straddled him and started throwing punches. The “fight was on,” Woodfine testified.
Tallevi said he tried to restrain Parsons but did not place him in a choke hold. Woodfine said he Tasered Parsons three times to protect his fellow officer, the last shot to the crotch. Parsons was not Tasered after he was cuffed and charged by Tallevi with assault police and resisting arrest, the officers testified.
Tallevi never recorded in his notes that Parsons lunged at him and did not explain to the court why.
For Woodfine, it was the first time he had used a Taser in the line of duty, testifying that it was a “pretty significant” event in his career as a police officer. Though he denied Tasering Parsons 15 to 20 times, the judge noted Woodfine “surprisingly” never provided the court with data from the device’s recording mechanism that indicates the exact number of times it was fired and for how long.
The officers’ story crumbled when Officer Dino Cirillo testified that in the moments before the struggle began, Parsons had his hands up, a cell phone visible in one of them, when Tallevi “immediately” went toward Parsons and put his arm around his throat before tumbling in the ditch. Cirillo later tried to backpedal from some of this testimony.
After Parsons was taken to jail (where he would spend the next five days, his bed a mattress on the floor), Woodfine issued the SUV driver Ryckman a $100 ticket for her window tint being too dark. Criminal charges against Parsons were never pursued by the crown prosecutor.
Judge Harris said two of the officers “lost recollection” of certain events that night “for their own convenience.” He again used the words “pure fiction” to characterize Tallevi’s testimony that he felt threatened by an object concealed in Parsons’ hand.
After reviewing all of the evidence, Judge Harris found the officers had no reason to stop the Jeep. The judge also found Tallevi put a choke-hold on Parsons. Judge Harris found Woodfine used is Taser without justification and shocked Parsons after he was handcuffed.
“None of those officers was threatened by him, nor were any of them in any danger from him,” Judge Harris wrote in his ruling. “It was in fact Mr. Parsons who was in danger from them.”
Their “troubling and offensive” conduct, the judge said, should shock and sadden the community.
The court awarded Parsons and Ryckman $70,000 in damages.
None of the officers faced an internal disciplinary investigation into the assault, false arrest, false prosecution or courtroom conduct found by the civil court. The force said the officers underwent ethics re-training.
More than two years after the civil ruling, sitting in a downtown Toronto coffee shop, Parsons, now 31 and an entrepreneur, said: “(The judge) knew the police were lying and he called them on it. It’s becoming something the (courts) aren’t going to tolerate anymore. Their conduct in court is often misleading.
“The judges are doing their best to weed these guys out. (But) what is the public going to do about it? . . . If they’re going to lie in court, they should be charged. Police officers should be held to the same accountability as citizens. They’re not lawmakers, they’re law enforcers.”
Parsons is brash, angry still at what happened that night on Lundy’s Lane.
“They took their shot. I’m still alive. I’m never going to forget what they did to me.”
He said his lawsuit was not about the money. It was about holding the police to account for abusing their power.
“It had nothing to do with winning. It was about awareness,” Parsons said.