Officer says he feared for his life before using Taser

Trial continues for two police officers accused of using excessive force

Police officer Cardiff Robinson gave evidence on Thursday that he used a Taser on a suspect in May 2014 because he honestly believed the man was a potential threat to his safety and the safety of other officers.

Shown video footage taken from the police helicopter the night of the incident, he was asked to comment on frames showing the suspect on the ground and other police officers around him.

“You were fearful for your life?” Crown counsel Candia James asked him.

“Yes,” the officer replied.

Robinson and fellow officer Austin Etienne have pleaded not guilty to common assault, specifically, using excessive force. The trial began earlier this year and Ms. James closed the Crown’s case on Wednesday.

Defense attorneys Dennis Brady and Natasha Bodden argued that there was no case to answer, but Magistrate Philippa McFarlane found that there was. Along with the helicopter video, there was video from the two officers’ Tasers; the magistrate said she had found it “really jarring,” with the suspect heard to say, “Don’t shock me. Don’t shock me no more.”

She said even if she accepted that the first deployment of the Taser was possibly reasonable, it was the subsequent deployment (while the suspect was on the ground) that satisfied her the use of force was excessive.

However, she continued, what she then had to consider was the officers’ state of mind at the time they used their Tasers.

Robinson said he was on duty with other officers the night of May 2, 2014. They received a report about a domestic dispute in the vicinity of the Compass Centre. On attending, they saw a woman outside a car, crying. One of the officers went to speak with her; Robinson, as the patrol car driver followed the vehicle.

He tried to get the suspect’s car to stop by means of siren and blue lights. On reaching Crewe Road, the driver drove harder, overtaking other vehicles. He went onto the East-West Arterial and began swerving and straddling two lanes.

Officers contacted the Bodden Town Police Station and officers there set up a roadblock, but they had to pull their vehicles out of the way because the car would not stop. A vehicle coming from the opposite direction had to go up on the sidewalk to avoid a collision, Robinson said.

At one point he lost sight of the vehicle he had been following, but the police helicopter advised of its whereabouts. He continued to follow into East End and the whole chase was over 38 miles, but he could not say how long it lasted.

When the vehicle finally stopped, Robinson alighted from his vehicle with his Taser because he knew that “once you take it out, it records … so it is clear what is happening.”

“I honestly believed that the subject I was dealing with was a threat to my safety and the safety of other officers,” he said. “In my mind he was a violent man. It was after 1 a.m. The place was dark.”

He said the officers were shouting very loud, “Get out of the vehicle, get out of the vehicle.” One of his colleagues pulled open the vehicle door and then backed off. When Robinson approached the vehicle, he saw a machete near the driver’s seat and the driver’s hand was on his thigh.

“I believed my life was in serious danger. We were not getting response from the vehicle,” Robinson said. When he fired his Taser, he realized it missed or did not connect through thick clothing because there was no reaction from the person in the car. That was when Etienne fired his Taser.

When the suspect was pulled from the car by another police officer, he started to kick up and the officer told him to release his hand. The suspect had one hand cuffed and the other hand free, but he was not complying with the officer’s directions. That led Robinson to believe the suspect had a weapon.

He accepted that there were three or four other officers present and the suspect was on the ground, but asserted, “It takes a lot to manage someone who is drunk or on drugs.”

Mr. Brady asked if he had fired the Taser as an act of punishment.

“No sir, never,” Robinson replied.

Ms. James reminded him of a voice heard on the footage shouting, “Burn him!” Robinson replied that he did not say that and he did not hear it said that night.

“Isn’t that what spurred you on?” Ms. James asked.

“No,” was his answer.

Etienne was out of the courtroom when his co-defendant gave evidence and then began his own account after noon.

The video footage from both officers’ Tasers has been played several times during the trial.

The court has heard that the suspect/victim had a blood-alcohol level of 0.142. The legal limit is 0.100.

Ms. James confirmed that the man was subsequently charged with driving under the influence, failing to comply with an officer’s directions, committing a negligent act, possession of an offensive weapon and breach of the peace.