Cop’s fate in judge’s hands

It’s now up to a judge to decide whether Kelowna RCMP member Christopher Brinnen was fulfilling his duties or lost his cool.

It’s now up to a judge to decide whether Kelowna cop Christopher Brinnen was fulfilling his duties or lost his cool over some police-specific slurs last year when he chased down a local man and clocked him.

The judge, who will offer a verdict at a yet-to-be-scheduled date, will have to wade through three days of conflicting testimony regarding the Feb. 14, 2010, barflush where alleged victim Kyle Nelson, 24, got a black eye from a run-in with Const. Brinnen.

Crown counsel Joel Gold brought forth witnesses who made Brinnen appear like a cop who, annoyed by belligerent behaviour, went to great lengths and contravened police policy to prove a point.

Some testimony, Gold admitted in closing, was inconsistent, but all witnesses agreed the conflict started just after 2 a.m., when Nelson left Gotchas with five others, and it escalated quickly.

Brinnen, who had pulled his police SUV up alongside several parked cop cars, was watching the barflush play out when Nelson caught his eye and ear.

Nelson testified he didn’t say a word to the officers, but two witnesses who were his companions that night offered up a memory of him saying something to the effect of, “What are you police just standing around for?”

Brinnen, however, remembers disparaging remarks about “pigs” being lobbed in the officers general direction, and testified he was displeased with the outpouring.

As such, he testified, he offered some “non-verbal communication” to express his displeasure. He later noted that the middle finger salute he delivered, in that circumstance, meant “go home.”

Nelson, however, had a different interpretation.

Crown witness Kaitlynn Lang testified that he yelled back at the officer, “You finger me and I’ll finger you.”

At that point, Nelson either started jumping up and down continuing to flip-off the officer, or just raised his middle finger once and continued to walk away with his friends.

Regardless, the next thing all parties agree on is that Brinnen accelerated toward Nelson, prompting the young man to take off running.

He ran down Leon Avenue, in the direction of Water Street, where he turned left, with Brinnen hot on his heels.

In an alley by the old Liquid Zoo, the police officer caught up to Nelson, who doubled back so he could climb a fence.

Brinnen testified the sight of Nelson running past his truck made him think of opening the door, but that would have been inappropriate.

Instead, he let him pass, got out of his truck and pursued on foot.

With his truck door open, however, a complication arose.

Samson, his police hound, got loose and ran after Nelson.

Nelson claimed the dog “nipped at his heels” although Brinnen said had Samson caught up with him, he would have done more than that.

With the dog commanded to stay behind, Nelson was able to scale the fence and Brinnen was close behind.

Nelson, who’s five-foot-11 and 175 pounds, testified he made it to another fence when he realized it was time to give up, so he turned to Brinnen with his hands up.

“He took four steps toward me and punched me in the face,” Nelson testified, later showing pictures of a standard shiner.

Brinnen, he said, never arrested him. He just threw him to the ground, asked him if he was on drugs or drunk then, realizing he wasn’t, told him to get out of the area.

Brinnen, six-foot-six and 260 pounds, saw the moment they finally met differently.

Once he cleared the fence, Brinnen said he was just a couple steps behind when Nelson swung around with his hands up.

Given the pursuit, Brinnen testified he believed it was a threatening stance so he aimed to punch Nelson in the body, to reduce his risk.

Nelson, Brinnen said, ducked and that caused him to hit his head. He then took Nelson down in a police hold, asked his name, assessed he wasn’t a risk and let him go.

No ID was requested, nor was he charged for earlier disturbing the peace.

Crown counsel pointed out that much of this testimony was problematic.

It was unlikely that Brinnen hit his head, while aiming for his body, but above all else he questioned his motivation.

Gold asked Brinnen why he even chased him, considering Nelson wasn’t going to be arrested and hadn’t really committed a crime.

Brinnen continually said it was his responsibility to suss out what he was dealing with, although Crown disagreed considering the alleged criminal behaviour didn’t meet the test of an actual disturbance of the peace. Other officers there, he pointed out, hadn’t even batted an eye about Nelson’s behaviour.

In his defence, Neville McDougall said Brinnen was acting out his duties appropriately.

He pointed out that it was his responsibility to chase the young man down once he started running, using a drinking driver analogy.

If a suspected drinking driver were to get out of his car and stop driving, he should still be investigated. More importantly the force used was not excessive given the circumstances, said McDougall.