RCMP const. Glen Gabruch is now waiting to find out if he is guilty or not-guilty of common assault, after a two-day trial in Stettler.
Judge B. Fraser, who heard two days of testimony from witnesses, Crown and counsel, has yet to set a date when he will announce his decision in Gabruch’s case.
The assault charge stems from an incident in a 2013 arrest, where Gabruch threw the arrested individual to the floor. The Crown contends that Gabruch’s actions were unreasonable and therefore the action constitutes assault, while Gabruch said that the individual was belligerent, had stopped responding to instructions, and was escalating towards a potential for violence. The action was performed to subdue the subject and de-escalate the situation.
The court heard that in the early morning hours of Nov. 30, 2013, Gabruch was riding with RCMP Const. Curtis Duplessis when the two men noticed a vehicle parked on a service road parallel to Highway 12.
When the RCMP approached the vehicle, it began driving at a slow, and swerving pace, so Duplessis activated the lights and pulled the vehicle over. Inside the vehicle was Mark Sawatzky, the complainant in the case, and his two children.
Sawatzky was arrested and searched by Duplessis, and an arrangement for another constable to come and pick up the children was made. After the children were picked up, Duplessis took everyone back to the detachment and began to process Sawatzky.
The court saw, repeatedly, on security footage, Duplessis, Sawatzky and Gabruch enter the cell block hallway. There, Sawatzky turns in his unnecessary garments and items, turning over shoes, belts, excess clothing and the like. At the time of arrest, Duplessis took from him medicine. He is again searched, this time by Gabruch.
The soundless video then shows Sawatzky gestured to sit on a bench, which he does, and Duplessis writing some notes. Gabruch leaves the line of sight of the camera. After that, it appears that Duplessis offers Sawatzky the opportunity to use the phone room to contact a lawyer.
At this point, the unheard conversation becomes more animated with Sawatzky gesturing. Gabruch returns, and as the conversation continues, Sawatzky stands. He is gestured to sit down by Gabruch and complies, and the conversation continues, the gesturing on Sawatzky’s part becoming less pleading and more angry. He stands and is told to sit again, and begins to sit before standing again. At this point, Gabruch places his hands on Sawatzky’s shoulders to push him down onto the seat, and when Sawatzky resists, is tossed to the floor.
Once Sawatzky begins to go down, Gabruch releases him, and comes around to the other side once the man is down to put a hand on his shoulder. At no time does the video show the complainant shoved or slammed into the floor, and it appears his head does not at any point touch the floor itself.
Words are exchanged and Duplessis comes over, pushing Gabruch back. Sawatzky stands, and he and Duplessis enter a cell.
Through testimony from the complainant, who later pleaded to driving while impaired, Duplessis and Gabruch, a picture was painted of an impaired man who was detained and was relatively co-operative throughout most of the evening. It was only when he was asked if he wanted to phone a lawyer that things changed.
The complainant said that he had to go to the washroom, and was denied the opportunity by RCMP. Duplessis, while on the stand, said he believed it was a stalling tactic on the part of the accused, who didn’t want to go on to do his breath test. Gabruch, while on the stand, said that the complainant had not indicated at any point that he had to use the washroom until he was asked if he wanted to phone a lawyer. He noted that many individuals seem to truly realize there will be consequences at this point, and he believes that is what happened with the complainant.
The complainant, in his testimony, said that his medication made him have to urinate more frequently, and he was going to wet himself if he wasn’t allowed.
The complainant’s recollection was two constables who were treating him callously and denying him his reasonable requests to go to the washroom, whereas both Duplessis and Gabruch recall a man who became increasingly belligerent, making comments about Duplessis having “small man syndrome.” Const. Dave Yome, who was called to the scene of the arrest to see to the towing of the complainant’s vehicle, had returned to the detachment and testified he could hear the complainant yelling from the bullpen.
When Sawatzky stood, began to sit, and stood again, Gabruch testified that he saw the motion as threatening and performed a “hands soft” restraining method, bringing Sawatzky “gently” to the floor.
Sawatzky became compliant for a time after the throw, but testimony from the RCMP said that he began being difficult again while in the cell, where he was allowed to use the facilities to relieve himself.
There were no visible injuries on Sawatzky, who was later released.
Sawatzky complained to the detachment commander, now-retired Sgt. Duncan Babchuk. Babchuk, who had not been familiar with the case, testified that he had looked up the case and then spoken with both constables, having Duplessis turn over the video to him so he could review it.
When questioned by Crown attorney Photini Papadatou, Babchuk said he did not seek out the video himself as Const. Duplessis would have already collected it for the case being made against Sawatzky, to be turned over to defence for the impaired driving.
Papadatou spent a great deal of time focused on the denial of the use of the washroom and the dates the reports were filed. She even noted when Gabruch put on his gloves, asking if he was putting them on because he intended to put his hands on Sawatzky. Gabruch denied that, stating that he put his gloves on because the situation was escalating, and he wanted to be prepared for whatever happened.
Defense lawyer Paul Moreau repeatedly brought the attention back to the alleged assault, calling Sgt. Todd Leatherdal to the stand to testify as an expert witness in RCMP procedures on training and policy in use of force.
It was his conclusion, having reviewed the reports, the videos, and having been allowed to remain for all testimony, that Gabruch had acted within the confines of RCMP training and policy. However, he would not say if Gabruch’s actions were correct and appropriate, as that was a matter for the judge to decide.
After the conclusion of testimonies, the judge reserved his verdict, advising both Crown and counsel that it would take time for him to review the information, exhibits, and testimony before making a decision. A date for that decision has not yet been set.
In the meantime, Gabruch continues to serve as an active RCMP constable in the Lloydminster detachment, where he was transferred after eight years in Stettler. While the actual transfer happened after the incident which spawned the assault charge, the order had been given prior to the arrest of Sawatzky.