The constable at the centre of a hearing of the Nova Scotia Police Review Board says the woman accusing him of choking her and slamming her to the floor was about to spit on him, but didn’t.
Halifax Regional Police Const. Jason Wilson testified on Wednesday, the third day of the hearing. Susan Doman has accused him of using excessive force during her 2021 arrest. Police originally agreed Wilson had used excessive force, but they dropped the discipline after Wilson appealed. The hearing went ahead because Doman doesn’t agree with that decision.
Two of Wilson’s colleagues testified on Monday and Tuesday, each with slightly varying stories about the incident in question. Wilson’s testimony introduced a third version of events, and represented a departure from his earlier position.
Wilson went to an apartment in Halifax on the night in question after he was called in for back-up. Constables Hannah Burridge and Kaven Daneault responded first. They reported Doman was resisting their efforts to arrest her for allegedly breaching a court-imposed condition.
Doman is accused of breaching a no-contact order from her ex-boyfriend. That matter has not been resolved in court.
After Wilson arrived, he testified he attempted to handcuff Doman as Burridge lifted her off of a sofa. He said he got one handcuff on her left wrist, but was unable to secure the second. As they walked toward the door, Wilson said Burridge was able to get the second handcuff onto Doman’s right wrist.
According to the disciplinary decision against Wilson, written by Sgt. Derrick Boyd, dated Feb. 2, 2022, Wilson previously claimed the second handcuff was never secured.
“Cst Wilson said that Ms Doman had only one handcuff on as she was escorted out of the apartment,” Boyd wrote, noting other officers said she was handcuffed.
“I believe Ms Doman was handcuffed with both hands and I do not believe Cst Wilson when he says she only had one handcuff as she was being escorted out of the apartment. A police officer would handcuff first before escorting.”
Wilson’s testimony on Wednesday aligns with the other officers’ recollection. Doman, who is representing herself in the hearing, didn’t question Wilson about the change during cross examination.
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Once Doman was handcuffed, Wilson testified that she continued to resist, and then made a sound.
“Ms. Doman turns her head toward me and makes a sound consistent with someone bringing up saliva from her throat and is about to spit on me,” Wilson said.
Wilson said it’s happened to him many times, and mimicked the sound he said Doman made. He said Doman was “about to graduate into assaultive behaviour” in the close quarters of the apartment hallway. He described what happened next:
At that time, I immediately put out my left hand, and I turned, I put my left hand on Ms. Doman’s, the side of her neck, and I turned her face in a different direction. If she was going to spit on me, she was now going to spit on the wall and not in my face. At that time, Ms. Doman, she ends up shifting her weight in such a way that it causes us to fall onto the kitchen floor.
Now, what we have to understand is that Ms. Doman is now fully handcuffed. Her hands are behind her back. When someone is taken into custody by the police, the police have a responsibility to keep that detainee safe because they have no way of protecting themselves if they fall. Their hands are behind their back. Ms. Doman ends up shifting her weight in such a way, causing her and myself because I was holding her, to go with her onto the kitchen floor. We fell onto the kitchen floor. Ms. Doman’s head did not hit the floor simply because, with my right hand, I put my right hand out and her head landed in my hand. Had her head hit that floor, the tile floor, she would have been severley injured.
Daneault testified on Monday that he was right behind Doman when this happened. He said he heard Wilson say that Doman spit on him, and when he pushed her face away she lost her balance and fell.
Another officer who was there, Const. Olivier Duquet-Perron, testified on Tuesday that he also heard Wilson say Doman had spit on him. He said the officer placed both hands around the woman’s neck and took her down to the floor.
In the disciplinary decision, which the board provided to the Halifax Examiner on Wednesday, Boyd found that the force used was excessive. That decision was based on interviews with the witness officers and a civilian, and a review by a use of force expert within Halifax Regional Police, Sgt. Tony Croft:
After reviewing all the documents and statements, Sgt. Croft stated in his report that he does not accept that when Cst Wilson grabbed her by the throat and then physically throwing a person to the floor as a reasonable and necessary use of force considering that Ms Doman was handcuffed behind her back and there were multiple officers controlling her movements. He believes that there were other force options available and that the force that he used on Ms Doman was aggressive and excessive in nature and could have resulted in Ms Doman being seriously injured.
Wilson said on Wednesday that he did use another option because he only used one hand, and it was open.
“At no time did I fully grab Ms. Doman by her throat,” he said.
Wilson agreed Doman never actually spit on him.
Boyd found Wilson’s actions were “not based on any training, could have caused significant injury and therefore, I consider this to be excessive under the circumstances.”
The officer was issued a penalty of 40 hours suspension and ordered to take use of force training. That decision was reversed prior to this week’s hearing, on Wilson’s appeal.
There are two or three witnesses left for the hearing: Doman, Burridge, and a civilian witness who was in the apartment. Doman has so far been unable to track down the civilian. She and Burridge are scheduled to testify next Wednesday.