Kelowna RCMP officer Const. Steve Conlon has been found guilty of assault for punching a pregnant woman after the judge ruled the officer had no right to be in the woman’s house, let alone strike her.
Conlon is now the second local officer to be found guilty in the courts of misdeeds in relation to an incident that happened on Thompson Road on Feb. 13, 2009.
That night, Const. Kent Hall—who earlier pleaded guilty to careless use of a firearm—shot wanted man Mark Pauls after Pauls sprayed the officer with bear spray.
In the aftermath of the shooting, officers were told that a woman—Brandie Fahl—was with Pauls when Hall approached and there was some discussion about wanting to speak with her.
Conlon had been asked by a senior officer to secure Hall’s vehicle and then return to get the injured officer, but he instead went to 890 Thompson Road in an attempt to get Fahl to come out, the court heard.
The occupants of the home did not want to allow officers in, and told them to get a warrant.
At one point, a more junior officer suggested to Conlon that “exigent circumstances” might allow them into the home without a warrant, Conlon testified.
However, the decision to enter the home apparently fell to Conlon, an officer with two and a half years of experience.
“He was the quarterback of the police team who entered the home,” said Judge Edmond De Walle.
Conlon and two other officers went in through the front door about the same time two officers came in the back, chasing a man who ran back inside after seeing officers, and a chaotic scene unfolded as a number of people inside the home were ordered to the ground.
Crystal Young, who was pregnant, was holding her pit bull on a leash, and was ordered to the ground “seven or eight times” by Conlon.
She said she couldn’t get down because of the dog.
At one point, the dog bit Conlon on the right arm and Conlon hit the dog, and then hit Young.
“There is no question that Const. Conlon used force,” said De Walle.
At issue, he said, was whether Conlon was protected under a statute that allows someone to use as much force as necessary to enforce the law, whether he was acting in self defence when he swung at the dog and Young and whether the police had the authority to be in Young’s home.
Whether the entry into the home was lawful is “relevant” to whether Young had a duty to comply with Conlon’s requests to get on the ground, De Walle said.
Police can enter a home without a warrant to prevent immediate bodily harm and to prevent the destruction of evidence. Those are referred to as “exigent circumstances.”
“It is my finding that there were no exigent circumstances justifying warrantless entry into 820 Thompson,” said De Walle.
He also found Conlon was not engaged in the execution of his duties when he used the force against Young.
As for the issue of self-defense, De Walle said Conlon was justified when he hit the dog, but that he didn’t have a legal right to punch Young.
She did not assault Conlon nor threaten him and she didn’t pose a threat after the dog went down.
“I find the punch to Crystal Young’s face was completely unnecessary,” said De Walle.
Conlon had originally been charged with assault causing bodily harm, but the Crown earlier conceded they hadn’t established bodily harm to Young.
As a result, Conlon was found guilty of assault.
He had no comment after the decision.
However, Supt. Bill McKinnon, who was among more than 20 people, mostly off-duty officers, who were in court Friday said the decision did not surprise him.
“I’ll be honest, it’s what I expected,” said McKinnon.
“Unfortunately, a mistake was made and the courts made a decision that I absolutely respect.”
He added he felt it was unfortunate that it happened to a young member who thought he was doing the right thing but made a mistake.
He added that he didn’t think a change in training was needed, but instead said it had more to do with the officer’s experience.
Officer inexperience is an issue he faces as Kelowna’s top cop and he believes there are not enough supervisors on the road nor is there enough manpower.
“I need many more members,” he said. “You’ll get additional supervisors when you get more members.”
Conlon’s sentencing will take place at a later date and he also still faces an internal code of conduct investigation.