HALIFAX — A Halifax police officer has been found guilty of assault causing bodily harm after security video showed a homeless man being punched while kneeling in front of the officer.
Justice Laurie Halfpenny-MacQuarrie ruled in Halifax provincial court Wednesday that Const. Laurence Gary Basso assaulted Patrice Simard while attempting to remove him from the parking lot of the Metro Turning Point shelter last year.
The Halifax police said in a brief statement that the conviction of one of its officers "is troubling" and that an investigation under the Police Act that had been on hold during the court proceedings will now resume.
"Disciplinary action is a confidential personnel matter that we will not discuss publicly," the release said.
Much of the trial hinged on roughly 15 minutes of security footage that showed the exchange between the officer and Simard, who was sitting outside the shelter on Feb. 25 after being asked to leave due to drinking in his bed.
The video showed that Basso initially remained in his vehicle talking to Simard, but then he emerged from his car and during a conversation, he punched Simard in the head.
The homeless man dropped to the ground and didn't move for about 10 seconds. Some days after the punch, a hospital diagnosed Simard as having a broken nose.
The officer had testified that he punched Simard's head only in response to a punch Simard had made at his leg that the camera angle doesn't show.
However, the Crown argued during the trial that Simard never punched Basso at all and that the man was instead trying to reach for his backpack, which Basso was holding, because backpacks are known to be "very valuable" to people experiencing homelessness.
Halfpenny-MacQuarrie sided with the Crown’s arguments.
Peter Dostal, the Crown lawyer in court Wednesday, said the prosecution service is pleased with the judge's verdict.
"This was a case where a claim of self defence masked the offence of assault causing bodily harm," he said in an email. "Law enforcement must be held accountable in such instances. And this verdict sends that message very clearly."
Basso was found not guilty of public mischief, and during the course of the trial, a charge of a breach of trust was dropped.
Sentencing for Basso, who has been suspended with pay since last March, has been scheduled for October.
The Canadian Press
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