The Kelowna Mountie whose name became synonymous with police brutality after he was filmed kicking a prone suspect in the head was acquitted of the first of two assault charges levied against him.
Provincial court judge Mark Takahashi acquitted Const. Geoffrey Mantler of assault Thursday, saying he was “in the awkward position of being certain Mantler caused the injury” to Manjeet Singh Bhatti, but evidence presented in the trial didn’t meet the standard set for a conviction.
Takahashi explained Bhatti’s “vague and unsure” testimony and Mantler’s partner, Const. Rick Goodwin’s contradictory recollections were the reason for the acquittal.
Bhatti, 36, claimed he was victim of a surprise attack from Const. Mantler just after 1 a.m., Aug. 30, 2010.
The Prince George resident testified he was abandoning a crack deal in an alleyway for fear of his own safety, when he came upon Mantler and his partner.
Pedalling away on the bike he was riding, Bhatti said he passed a car in the dark and heard someone yell: “Hey, stop.”
He testified that he didn’t want to stop while he was evading a potential robbery, and replied, “No, I’m driving to the store.”
He got to the highway, and realized it was the police so he stopped in the middle lane, dropped his bike to the ground between his legs and lifted his arms into the air.
The police car came up behind him, against the flow of traffic, and Goodwin exited to take Bhatti into custody.
Bhatti, who is five-foot-11 and at that time weighed under 120 lbs, was then brought to the police cruiser and cuffed while Goodwin went to get the bike from the road.
He testified he then heard Mantler enter the scene.
“From the back of the car, he was moving fast…running. I turned my head to the right and I was hit with something… a fist or an elbow,” said Bhatti.
The hit was hard enough to shatter his glasses, and knock him to the ground.
Blood, he testified, was running down his nose and onto the ground. He claims the knock caused his eye to swell shut for the following four weeks, causing headaches and impacting his vision.
Later he said he asked Mantler why he hit him, despite the fact he was submitting to arrest.
“He said, ‘Because you’re a stupid crack-head,’ and he kept calling me a ‘goof.’ ‘Goof’ this and ‘goof’ that.”
Takahashi pointed out that there were a number of issues with that account of the night’s events—not the least of which being that it was unlikely that Bhatti was complying with police direction, when they asked him to stop.
It’s more likely, he said, that Bhatti, who was “tweaking” from a previous crack-high, was trying to flee, and possibly dump drugs he’d already attained.
Bhatti also later changed his testimony on what direction the car came.
And then there was the matter of the blood. He said he was dripping with it, but photos from the next day showed contradictory evidence.
“Inconsistencies and confusion compromise the reliability of the testimony,” said Takahashi.
That became especially problematic once Goodwin took the stand, offering further confusion.
Takahashi said while it would be “naive” to think that Goodwin wouldn’t be swayed by his affiliation with the Mounties, he was disappointed that someone who was trained as an observer and professional witness would have such a spotty recollection of a significant event.
Goodwin, he pointed out, said he wasn’t sure if he caused Bhatti the injury when he pushed him against the car during the course of the arrest, casting doubt on Bhatti’s recollection.
There may have been further clarity, he said, if Crown counsel submitted Mantler’s earlier statement. In it, he said he slammed Bhatti’s head in the car when he thought he was going to be spit at, or head-butted.
Bhatti made a complaint the day after their encounter, although it didn’t become a criminal matter until around the time Mantler made national headlines for allegedly booting Kelowna resident Buddy Tavares’ in the head while he lay prone on the ground, an incident that was captured on video.
The Tavares case is scheduled for court in November.