Halifax Regional Police Constables Kenneth O’Brien (left) and Brent Woodworth speak on Thursday before the Police Review Board hearing in Enfield. Photo: Zane Woodford

A Halifax Regional Police officer says race was not a factor in his decision to arrest a Black man after he stopped him in a city park after 10pm.

Const. Kenneth O’Brien testified on Friday at a Nova Scotia Police Review Board hearing into the arrest of Adam LeRue and his common law partner, Kerry Morris, back in February 2018. The hearing was adjourned in July and resumed on Thursday, when LeRue and Morris testified that they were stopped at Sir Sandford Fleming Park in Armdale to make a phone call when O’Brien blocked in their car and asked LeRue for identification.

O’Brien, who’s been with Halifax Regional Police for 12 years, told the board he was regularly instructed by superiors to stop by the park after it closed at 10pm to clear people out — something he called a “special check.” He said he always asked for identification when he encountered people in the park.

Under cross examination by Jason Cooke, the lawyer for LeRue and Morris, O’Brien agreed he could’ve just asked them to leave the park, but he said that’s not his usual practice when people are in vehicles in the park after hours.

On the night of Feb. 12, 2018, O’Brien said he arrived at the park at 10:19pm. He pulled over another vehicle that was leaving the park, and eventually let that driver go with a warning after checking out their licence. O’Brien said he pulled up behind LeRue’s vehicle, parked in the gravel lot near a playground, at 10:27pm and turned his lights on. He asked for LeRue’s identification and LeRue asked to see a supervisor. After being told the supervisor was at the office in Bedford and wouldn’t be coming, LeRue still didn’t provide his identification, and at 10:46pm, O’Brien arrested him for obstruction of justice.

O’Brien said that after LeRue wouldn’t provide his licence, there had to be “consequences,” and he could learn from the incident. He said he wasn’t originally planned to give LeRue a ticket for being in the park.

“It seemed like he felt entitled to be there, that I shouldn’t be asking him for ID if he wasn’t in the wrong, so that’s why at some point it switched to where I felt a ticket would be appropriate,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien testified that he first thought LeRue was “Middle Eastern” when he walked up to the vehicle, but later found out he was Black when LeRue mentioned his race in conversation.

I am not a racist person,” he said. “Race was not a factor in this.”

O’Brien said he regretted a comment he made near the start of his interaction with LeRue, captured on video by Morris and shown at the hearing. LeRue asked him if he was bored, and the officer said, “Yeah, I am.”

“In hindsight, I wish I wouldn’t have said that,” O’Brien said Friday. “It wasn’t the proper thing to say at the time, but that reflected, I guess maybe, my frustration both with the fact that it was a quiet night, I was doing this just to wrap that up and my frustration that Mr. LeRue was giving me a hard time about the licence. I probably shouldn’t have said that.”

Mostly, the officer’s story was the same as LeRue and Morris’ story: he asked for identification, LeRue asked for a supervisor, the supervisor said he couldn’t come, a second officer, Const. Brent Woodworth, arrived, LeRue continued to ask for a supervisor, LeRue was arrested, Morris was arrested and let go, and then LeRue was jailed for the night.

Their stories differ mostly in the lead-up to the two arrests.

O’Brien said he gave LeRue an “ultimatum” — show us your identification or you’ll be arrested for obstruction of justice. O’Brien said LeRue then told him, “arrest me.” LeRue and Morris both denied that in testimony on Thursday.

Adam LeRue speaks to reporters during a break in the first sitting of his Police Review Board hearing in July. — Zane Woodford

After O’Brien arrested LeRue, he put him in the back of his car. After that arrest, Woodworth went back to LeRue’s vehicle to search it. Morris, who had moved from the passenger seat to the driver’s seat, told Woodworth she didn’t consent to a search.

Morris told the board in testimony on Thursday and Friday morning that she wasn’t given an opportunity to get out of the vehicle on her own, but that Woodworth ripped her out, causing bruising and a sore shoulder.

O’Brien told the board on Friday that he heard Woodworth ask Morris at least twice to get out of the vehicle.

Morris was released without charges. LeRue ended up pleading guilty to the charge of obstruction of justice and going through a restorative justice process and he paid a ticket for failing to provide identification under the Motor Vehicle Act. The ticket for being in the park after 10pm was thrown out because O’Brien wrote it under the wrong bylaw.

The hearing is expected to resume on Oct. 23 with testimony from Woodworth and the two officers’ supervisor that night, Sgt. Brian Palmeter.

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Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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