A former youth worker in Kamloops is suing police for about $2 million, alleging officers went too far when they arrested him outside the Twin Rivers Education Centre (TREC) more than a decade ago.
Michael McLellan is suing former Kamloops Mounties Carla Peters and Evan Elgee, the RCMP and the provincial and federal governments for negligence in what the plaintiff contends was an unlawful arrest using excessive force on Feb. 11, 2010.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Joel Groves presided over the trial, which has ended. A date for his judgment has not yet been set.
Court heard Mclellan was standing in the parking lot of the school with his teenage client on the day in question, when police arrived.
Peters and Elgee were the first on scene, having heard from dispatch a suspect teen was in the lot with a care worker, in possession of a four-inch knife and wearing a long black leather jacket.
The officers drew their guns and ordered McLellan to get on the ground and crawl toward them on his stomach.
Peters is alleged to have jumped on the small of McLellan’s back with her knee, pulling his arms back to place him in handcuffs.
McLellan claims to have sustained wrist and shoulder injuries from the arrest, from which he has recovered from, but added he sustained a permanently back injury for which he continues to need treatment. He said his back injury ended his career and a youth care worker and ability to play semi-pro baseball.
McLellan said he has been unable to hold down a job over the last 10 years as a result of his injury and was at times homeless. He said he lives with mental-health issues stemming from post-traumatic stress disorder and has anxiety and a fear of police as a result of the incident.
McLellan is seeking up to $170,000 in non-pecuniary damages, $474,436 in lost wages, up to $1,085,328 in loss of future income, $95,000 for special damages and up to $138,039 for future care costs.
McLellan’s lawyer, Karen Schymon-Martin, said her client was unlawfully arrested. She said officers used excessive force, having known upon arrival one of the two males was an innocent care worker they had a common law duty to protect. The plaintiff submitted that the officers already had control of the situation with their guns drawn and weren’t justified in using physical force after already using the threat of deadly force when they drew their guns.
McLellan contends the officers could have taken an alternative approach, such as ordering the pair to raise their hands, asking them to identify themselves and asking which one had the knife.
Defence lawyer David Bilkey stressed that given the totality of the circumstances at the time, the officers were acting within their authority and had reasonable grounds to make the arrest, due to safety and investigative purposes. He noted that the dispatch call was one designated high alert and referenced Peters’ testimony — that because the plaintiff was co-operative and calm didn’t eliminate the risk of a threat from the yet-to-be located knife.
Bilkey also noted the courts are to generally assess the police based on what they did and not what they could have done.
Peters testified she was concerned one of the two males would run back into the school and harm people and decided she needed to gain control of the situation by first locating the knife. The officers directed their attention to the male closest to them and ignored the other one, the youth who was tended to by other responding officers, court heard.
The two males were said to have been co-operative with police and McLellan said he tried to tell the officers who he was, which they denied hearing. He said he flashed an ID badge, but the officers were said to have not seen anything in his hands.
Peters said she was fearful for everyone’s safety upon responding to the scene and claimed she couldn’t tell the two males apart and that they looked similar. Schymon-Martin contended that the officers should have been able to tell them apart given differing descriptions.
Neither Elgee nor Peters currently work for the Kamloops RCMP detachment.