Woman awarded $55,000 for wrongful arrest, unnecessary force

A B.C. Supreme Court Justice has awarded a woman $55,000 in damages for the injuries she suffered when an RCMP officer took her to the ground during a wrongful arrest outside a store in Smithers.

In a decision issued Friday, Justice Belinda Brown found Cst. Darrin Meier lacked reasonable grounds to make the arrest and used unnecessary force when, in December 2014, he dealt with Irene Joseph, who was 61 years old at the time and used a walker to get around as a result of a fused left ankle.

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In a review of the evidence, Brown said Meier had been called to a complaint of shoplifting after the store manager noticed a younger woman who had been speaking with Joseph put a scarf in her bag.

When the manager confronted the woman, she pulled the scarf back out, threw it down and ran out of the store. Joseph, in turn, told the manager she had a scarf around her neck that she was buying.

Meier decided to attend the store rather than pursue the woman who fled. After she made her purchases, Meier told Joseph he wanted to talk to her but she refused to cooperate.

"She refused to stop or provide information to him," Brown said. "She repeatedly told him that she had done nothing wrong and did not need to talk to him."

Meier called for backup and while waiting, decided to place Joseph in handcuffs. In turn, Joseph resisted, turning away from him and holding her hands clasped in front of her. Meier took her to the ground where they continued to struggle, the officer on top trying to pull her arms out from beneath her to cuff them as she lay on her stomach.

In time, Meier gave up. "He said 'enough' and stood up," Brown said. "He says he helped her to her feet. She says she got up on her own."

At about the same time, Meier's partner arrived. Joseph's belongings were then searched and no stolen merchandise was found.

On whether Meier had reasonable grounds to make the arrest, Brown sided with testimony from the store manager that she did not believe Joseph had taken anything and did not suggest to Meier that she had done so.

Meier, in turn, had testified the store manager had "felt" Joseph had taken something but conceded he wasn't sure if he asked her why she thought that and could not recall if he asked for more specifics.

On the issue of necessary force, Brown found Meier did not need to attempt to handcuff Joseph and take her to the ground and noted he had called for backup very shortly into his dealings with her.

"He knew that his partner was two minutes away," Brown said. "He could have waited. He could have followed Ms. Joseph if she walked away. In the circumstances, it was simply not necessary to physically subdue a woman of Ms. Joseph's age and limited mobility."

Based on photographs take by the RCMP, Brown found Joseph suffered bruising and scrapes to her legs, knees and hands. The judge was also satisfied Joseph suffered some soft tissue complaints as a result of the arrest.

Joseph said most of the injuries had healed within one to two months although she had headaches for about six months. Her most "most long-lasting and affecting complaints were aggravation to her preexisting chronic pain and aggravation of her pre-existing anxiety," said Brown.

Joseph was awarded $50,000 for non-pecuniary damages and $5,000 in Charter damages.

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