The supervisor in charge of a Halifax Regional Police officer who arrested a Black man after he was found in a city park after hours said he was shocked to learn the incident had ended in arrest, but he said the constable was right to demand the man’s identification.
Sgt. Brian Palmeter testified Tuesday at a hearing of the Nova Scotia Police Review Board. It was the continuation of a hearing into a complaint by Adam LeRue and Kerry Morris, who stopped to make a phone call in the parking lot near the Dingle in Armdale in February 2018.
LeRue, who is Black, ended up being arrested and spending the night in jail, charged with obstruction of justice, and ticketed for failure to provide a driver’s licence and being in a park after 10pm. Morris, LeRue’s common-law partner, who is white, was arrested as well, but she was released without charges.
LeRue and Morris filed an appeal of the internal decision not to discipline the two officers who arrested them — Constables Kenneth O’Brien and Brent Woodworth — triggering the review board hearing.
On the night of Feb. 12, 2018, O’Brien pulled up behind LeRue’s parked vehicle at Sir Sandford Fleming Park and asked him for identification. In an exchange captured in a video tendered as evidence earlier in the hearing, LeRue asked for O’Brien’s supervisor to come to the scene.
But the supervisor, Palmeter, wasn’t available.
At the hearing on Tuesday, Palmeter confirmed that he told O’Brien he had other work to do, and couldn’t make it to the scene. Palmeter said he offered to talk to LeRue on the phone, but O’Brien called him back and told him LeRue wouldn’t provide his phone number.
Palmeter said he and O’Brien didn’t speak again that night, but a few hours later, he learned the rest of what had happened.
“I was kind of shocked that it had gotten to that point, that a simple traffic stop had ended up in arrest because the individual wouldn’t produce his licence,” he said.
Palmeter told the board it’s fairly rare for a citizen to ask for a supervisor to come to the scene of an incident.
“I would say it’s unusual,” he said.
He’s more commonly asked to talk to citizens on the phone to sort out their interactions with police. He said that happens a few times a year.
As O’Brien had testified previously, Palmeter said clearing the park was a common practice for officers posted in that area because it was a source of frequent complaints from the public.
“It was a usual check for him. He did it most nights,” Palmeter said of O’Brien.
Palmeter testified he’s done it himself about a half-dozen times. He said he’s never ticketed anyone, but he’s also asked drivers to identify themselves. He said it’s necessary to identify people when letting them off with a warning to create a record of the warning for future incidents.
Asked whether an officer could just walk away after a citizen refused to provide their driver’s licence, Palmeter said no, the officer had to follow up.
Earlier on Tuesday, Jason Cooke, the lawyer for LeRue and Morris, finished his cross-examination of O’Brien.
Cooke spent much of that time delving into the particulars of LeRue’s arrest and detention, and the search of his vehicle, but he also asked O’Brien about a few recent reports into systemic racism in Halifax policing.
O’Brien told the review board he hasn’t read Scot Wortley’s report on street checks, which found Black people were six times more likely to be randomly stopped or documented by police.
Cooke asked whether he’d read the opinion from Michael MacDonald and Jennifer Taylor on the legality of street checks, and O’Brien said he had not. That report concluded that street checks, as performed by Halifax Regional Police officers, were illegal.
Asked whether he’s ever received “cultural competency” training, O’Brien said he didn’t know what the term meant. He later said he receives some training on diversity and racial bias as part of annual training.
During the last sitting of the police review board, O’Brien told the board race wasn’t a factor in LeRue’s arrest.
“I am not a racist person,” he said. “Race was not a factor in this.”
The hearing is expected to continue for two days starting on Dec. 8.
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