Nova Scotia’s Serious Incident Response Team has cleared Halifax Regional Police officers of wrongdoing in a 2021 interaction in the drunk tank.

SIRT released a report on Thursday following an investigation it started in December 2022 into a December 2021 incident.

The Halifax Examiner reported on a lawsuit by the complainant in December 2022. She claimed officers struck her in the head with a baton:

Lawyer Peter Gaggi filed notice of action in Nova Scotia Supreme Court on Wednesday on behalf of the plaintiff, who lives in Dartmouth. The Halifax Examiner is choosing to identify her by her initials, CDR.

The filing named Halifax Regional Municipality; Halifax Regional Police; officer Nicholas Fairbairn; and two unknown officers, one a man and one a woman, as defendants. None of the defendants has filed a defence. The allegations in the attached statement of claim have not been proven in court.

CDR was “detained and taken into custody by officers of the Defendant HRP on the basis of a summary offence” on Dec. 18, 2021.

“After being received at the Halifax Regional Police Headquarters at 1975 Gottingen Street, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the same day or very early morning of December 19, 2021, the Plaintiff was escorted to a cell by the Defendant Fairbairn, the Defendant Unknown Party 1, and the Defendant Unknown Party 2,” Gaggi wrote.

“Suddenly, without warning, or indication of violence, aggression, or threat, the Defendant Fairbairn, the Defendant Unknown Party 1, and the Defendant Unknown Party 2, struck the Plaintiff with a baton multiple times to the back, and to the back of the head.”

SIRT director Alonzo Wright, in his report, said that didn’t happen. He referred to the woman as the Affected Party (AP). Police arrested the woman in Dartmouth after someone called to complain she was drunk and disturbing their family. Police took the woman to headquarters:

The Halifax Regional Police station cells has a surveillance system that monitors the area where the AP would have been housed and where the AP would have entered and exited the police station. The AP can be seen in the entirety of there presence at the police station in the videotapes. The AP can be seen banging on the windows and doors of the cell and can also be seen speaking and laughing with officers. The AP can also be seen on two occasions being assessed by EMT’s. There is not one video showing the AP being struck with a police baton or showing the AP hemorrhaging significantly from the head area. The only evidence that the AP lost consciousness was when they are asleep on the bench in the cell area. The video is very clear. I see no wrongdoing, whatsoever by any officer or employee on the entirety of the video. To the contrary, the officers were very respectful for the duration.

Wright noted the complaint wasn’t made until after the lawsuit, and made reference to last year’s Examiner article.

“This matter received one sided and biased press coverage that sensationalized the AP’s allegations without any supporting documentation and essentially defamed one of the officers that caused serious financial obligations to that officer personally and was based on no evidence whatsoever,” Wright wrote.

Reached by phone on Thursday, Wright refused to confirm he was referring to the Examiner’s reporting.

The Examiner regularly reports on court filings. In this case, the Examiner wrote, “The allegations in the attached statement of claim have not been proven in court.” The defendants never filed statements of defence in the case. Had they done so, the Examiner would have reported on those as well.

Complainant recants story

Wright’s report goes on to outline the difficulty investigators had in speaking with the complainant. Eventually, she recanted her story.

“The AP was given every opportunity to supply a statement. Each attempt was not followed through with by the AP, even though they said they would. It is an under statement to say that the AP was a reluctant witness,” Wright wrote.

“When the AP did speak with the investigator they said ‘I was drunk and will talk to you as long as you don’t “come after me”‘. The AP also denied saying that they were hit with a baton. I can only take this as a retraction of the allegations the AP has made in this matter to SIRT and through the lawsuit they filed in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia.”

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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