Calling the dramatic story of a Kamloops police officer “troublesome,” a provincial court judge on Wednesday found a married couple not guilty of charges of assaulting a peace officer stemming from an altercation early last year.
Olive and Mark Klassen were charged following an incident at their Westsyde home on Feb. 18, 2017. Olive Klassen had called 911 to report what she believed to be a gas leak, but her cordless phone died before she could convey her message to the operator, prompting a police response.
At trial, Olive Klassen claimed to have been the victim of a brutal assault at the hands of two RCMP constables — an incident she said “totally blew [her] image of cops” and has caused her to feel anxious and wet herself when she sees an officer in uniform.
On the day of the incident, a chemical discharge at the Domtar pulp mill led to a rash of odour complaints.
Kamloops RCMP Const. Lane Tobin testified he arrived at the scene and advised the Klassens of the source of the smell, but said “things didn’t add up” for him.
“I told them I needed to check their trailer to make sure nothing was going on,” he said in court on March 1, the first day of the Klassens’ trial.
Court heard Olive Klassen advised Tobin to stay out of the trailer because of a possible gas leak and an altercation ensued. Tobin claimed he arrested Olive Klassen after she assaulted her husband outside their trailer — an assertion Kamloops provincial court Judge Chris Cleaveley found to be untrue.
Olive Klassen was put in handcuffs following a physical struggle with Tobin. She testified he choked her and said she believed she would die. She added that she was stomped on by another officer at the Kamloops RCMP detachment.
Tobin said he was “exhausted” after the altercation with the 51-year-old woman, but Cleaveley said that testimony was “exaggerated.”
“There was no basis on which Const. Tobin could arrest Ms. Klassen,” Cleaveley said, describing the officer as “exceeding his authority.”
Court heard Tobin pushed Klassen down the steps of her front porch during her arrest, something defence lawyer Jay Michi called “a gross use of force.” Klassen said Tobin called her “trailer trash” and claimed he told her he was “trained to kill and that’s what I want to do.”
“It was horrible,” she said. “It was absolutely horrible. I still don’t understand it.”
During cross-examination, Crown prosecutor Adrienne Murphy suggested to Olive Klassen it can be difficult to be “dealt with” by police.
“No,” Klassen replied. “No, it is not. A police officer? No. There’s a difference between a police officer and what he was that night.”
During the Klassens’ trial, court heard testimony from Tobin and two other RCMP officers, as well as Olive Klassen and deputy sheriff Rhonda Anderson.
Anderson said the Klassens arrived at the Kamloops courthouse days after the incident with Tobin hoping to speak with a lawyer. Olive Klassen became extremely upset when she saw Anderson in her uniform and fell to the floor, wetting herself.
Court heard Anderson changed into street clothes and comforted Klassen, offering her a change of clothes.
“I asked her to trust me, saying I was here to help her,” Anderson said. “I wasn’t here to make things worse for her.”
Anderson said she saw signs of injury on Klassen’s body while the woman was changing.
“While in the washroom, she lifted her shirt, showing me bruises on her body,” Anderson said, describing the injuries as covering Klassen’s back, arms and waist.
“I’ve never had an incident like this in my 20 years where I’ve taken off my uniform to interact with someone.”
Michi asked Cleaveley to accept Olive Klassen’s evidence over that of Tobin.
“Otherwise, you’re left with a 51-year-old woman with no criminal record attacking a police officer,” he said, calling the interaction “brutal.”
“Or you’re left with a police officer who is used to dealing with difficult people … and when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Ms. Klassen looked, to him, like a nail. Did he go overboard? I think he did. That all makes sense. What Const. Tobin says does not make sense. I wish that’s not the case, but it is.”
Cleaveley said he found Olive Klassen’s testimony more credible than that of Tobin, whose credibility he described as “troublesome.”
Olive Klassen cried in court during Wednesday’s verdict. Outside the courtroom, her husband said she still struggles with anxiety when she sees police.
“She still wakes up with nightmares, she still carries another pair of pants with her for when she sees a cop because she can still pee herself,” Mark Klassen told KTW.
Olive Klassen said she smiled at her husband when Cleaveley announced his not-guilty finding.
“I think the truth wins,” she said. “And I thank God. Every day it’s hard when I see cops. I love good cops, but I don’t know.”