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TORONTO – A judge has found a Toronto police officer guilty of assaulting a protester with a weapon at the city’s G20 summit three years ago.
Protester Adam Nobody clapped as the verdict was read, while another officer in the courtroom let out a loud sigh.
The Crown had argued that Const. Babak Andalib-Goortani was overwhelmed by the chaos and “lashed out” at the protester, hitting him with a baton after the man had been wrestled to the ground.
But in issuing her verdict Thursday, Judge Louise Botham told court, “a police officer is not entitled to use unlimited force to affect an arrest.”
“His explanation that he was responding to Adam Nobody’s resistance is nothing more than an after the fact attempt to justify his blows,” Botham said.
“I accept that in a dynamic situation, arrests need to occur quickly and officers may well need to use force to ensure that happens,” she said. “(But) even on the defendant’s evidence the resistance offered by Adam Nobody was minimal.”
The biggest factor in the guilty verdict is the fact there was video evidence that captured Andalib-Goortani beating Nobody with the baton, Toronto criminal lawyer Carlos F. Rippell associate with Edward H. Royle & Associates, tells AdvocateDaily.com.
“Lots of people now have smartphones with video – it makes the police more accountable,” says Rippell. “It makes trials such as this one less of a credibility contest when there is some objective evidence.”
While Rippell says the verdict will likely put officers in a position to show more restraint when dealing with civilians, “The bigger issue has to do with the fact that a number of cases involving inappropriate police interactions with civilians persist.” Smartphone videos, like has been seen with the Sammy Yatim shooting death and subsequent second-degree murder charge against Const. James Forcillo, are beginning to hold police officers accountable. Breaking down the persistent police officer culture where officers protect one another in the face of obvious misconduct is an important priority, says Rippell.
However, he adds, video also protects police officers who are honest in their law enforcement roles.
“That’s why the move towards video on police cruisers is obviously a good one as well,” says Rippell. “It protects everyone. It protects honest officers who are doing their job properly, but it allows objective evidence during interactions between police and civilians.”
Outside court, Nobody said he was surprised at the verdict.
“I was, yes… we live in a system we all know that cops get off all the time, so yes, I can honestly say that I was.”
The protester was singled out for arrest at a demonstration on June 26, 2010, at the Ontario legislature and was tackled as he ran from police.
Andalib-Goortani’s lawyer told court his client saw four other officers struggling to restrain Nobody on the ground and jabbed Nobody with his baton three times toward his thigh.
Botham said she found it “surprising” that fellow police officers who testified for the defence had such a vivid recollection of one protester’s behaviour in huge crowds three years ago.
She also called it curious that Andalib-Goortani had no name tag or badge number on his uniform that day.
Mike McCormack, president of the Toronto Police Association, says the officer is “very distraught” and “very crushed by this decision.”
“We’re going to have counsel go over it (the verdict) and then if there are grounds for appeal we’ll be taking that avenue.”
© 2013 The Canadian Press
With Files from AdvocateDaily.com