Original Published 16:31 Mar 22, 2022
By Michael Potestio, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A former Kamloops youth worker who said police went too far when wrongfully arresting him outside the Twin Rivers Education Centre (TREC) more than a decade ago has been awarded $1.3 million in damages.
Michael McLellan won his lawsuit against former Kamloops Mounties Carla Peters and Evan Elgee, the RCMP and the provincial and federal governments.
The lawsuit claimed the officers were negligent in using excessive force by jumping on the plaintiff’s back and dropping him while he was being detained on Feb. 11, 2010.
In his decision, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Joel Groves said Elgee and Peters arrested McLellan unlawfully and with excessive force.
McLellan was working as a youth worker on the day in question when he was arrested while in the parking lot of the Holt Street school with his student client, who had been asked to leave for allegedly having a knife. Court heard Peters and Elgee were the first on scene, having been dispatched to the Brocklehurst school for a report of a teen in possession of a four-inch knife alongside his care worker.
The officers drew their guns and ordered McLellan to get on the ground and crawl toward them on his stomach, despite his claim he presented an ID badge.
“What I find happened that day is that constables Peters and Elgee, in an overly aggressive manner, in a manner inconsistent with the police use of force training in the IM/IM (incident management/intervention model) document, unlawfully arrested and detained Mr. McLellan,” Groves wrote in his decision.
Groves said Peters aggressively dropped onto McLellan’s back with her knee when placing him in handcuffs and kneed him the back a second time while searching him. Groves said Elgee was then overly aggressive in getting McClellan to his feet by pulling him off the ground by the handcuffs, then dropping him back to the ground.
McLellan sustained wrist, soft tissue and shoulder injuries during the arrest, from which he has recovered, but was left with a permanent back injury for which he continues to need treatment and because of which he is unable to work, court heard.
Groves found the actions by police consistent with the injuries inflicted. McLellan said he also suffered psychological injuries due to the way he was treated by police.
“Even if Mr. McLellan was lawfully detained, that physical act of damage, intentional or otherwise, was negligent, in my view,” Groves wrote.
Peters and Elgee maintained they were acting within their authority and had reasonable grounds to make the arrest, due to safety and investigative purposes.
Groves found, however, that despite their belief, there was no objective basis to believe there was a risk to officer or public safety as they outnumbered the youth worker and his client with their fellow officers upon approach, had more firepower with their guns drawn and were a considerable distance from the two individuals, who were also between 50 and 100 feet away from the school.
“In my view, these police officers did not have a reasonable suspicion that their safety, or the safety of the public, was at stake when they detained the plaintiff because they easily could have determined that he was not [the student] by simply listening or asking,” Groves wrote.
He added that the officers had a co-operative person before them and simply asking who he was “should have been the end of the matter.”
“It is simply not the law that police officers can choose to detain or arrest everyone at every scene and ‘sort it out later’ as is suggested in the evidence constable Elgee verbalized to the plaintiff,” Groves wrote.
The judge awarded McLellan a total of $1,303,448.96 — $650,000 for loss of future earnings, more than $332,105 for past lost wages, nearly $170,000 for non-pecuniary damages, $95,223.96 in special damages, and $56,120 for the cost of future care.
Elgee and Peters, as well as the Crown were dismissed as defendants, and the remaining defendant — the provincial Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, as it was the employer of the two officers — was ordered to pay the plaintiff.
McLellan’s lawsuit, which sought about $2 million in damages, wrapped up in May 2021, with a written decision from Groves issued last week.
Elgee, and Const. Stephen Zaharia, who was also present during the arrest and testified at the trial, were both charged in 2010 in connection with an incident in which multiple officers at the Kamloops RCMP’s Battle Street detachment watched two female prisoners engaged in sex acts in a jail cell. The charges against them were eventually stayed.
Elgee is now an RCMP officer in New Brunswick, while Peters retired from the RCMP in 2017.
This item is reprinted with permission from Kamloops This Week, Kamloops British Columbia