A Toronto man who was rousted out of bed and wrongly imprisoned for nine days for allegedly pointing a gun at his neighbour has been given $50,000 by Toronto Police to settle his lawsuit.
Tim Lacasse, a bakery delivery-truck driver, said yesterday that although he is vastly relieved the case is over, he has been unable to equate the money with his ordeal.
"I don't know how to answer the question: What are nine days of my life worth?" Mr. Lacasse said. "They stripped me of my dignity and my self-respect. I lost a good portion of my self-confidence. To this day, I haven't got it back."
A lawyer for Mr. Lacasse, Louis Sokolov, said police did not admit liability as part of settling the $1-million malicious-prosecution lawsuit.
“They stripped me of my dignity”
Mr. Lacasse's ordeal began when he arrived home at 8 a.m. from his graveyard shift. He decided to put up a target in his back yard and test a pellet gun he had borrowed from a friend. It quickly dawned on Mr. Lacasse that he might wake up the neighbourhood, so he returned indoors and was nearly asleep when police banged on his door.
The 43-year-old man recalls one officer saying: "I guarantee I'm going to make your life miserable. And if you say a word, I'll handcuff you to the railing for the rest of the day."
Within minutes, Mr. Lacasse had been charged with pointing a firearm at a widow in her 60s next door, assault with a weapon and possessing a dangerous weapon. Denied bail, he spent nine days in the squalor of Don Jail, unable to change his filthy clothes and enduring repeated threats from inmates and guards.
"I had to sleep on the floor for five of those nine days, with men urinating by my head," Mr. Lacasse said. "And the holding cells at Old City Hall courthouse have the strongest stench you can imagine. It was just disgusting.
"The public probably thinks: 'They're all guilty, so it doesn't matter.' But there are people who aren't guilty in there. I'm not even sure those who are guilty deserve that kind of treatment."
On the ninth day, a prosecutor realized how scanty the evidence was.
A police review of the neighbour's police statement had revealed that she had said Mr. Lacasse had not pointed the pellet gun at her.
Mr. Lacasse called police a few weeks before the incident after his neighbour launched cat droppings over the fence, and was told that police believed she suffers from Alzheimer's disease.
Mr. Lacasse was released.
In the lawsuit, Mr. Sokolov and co-counsel Sean Dewart alleged that police knowingly placed false information in the case record, causing the Crown to oppose bail for their client, who had no criminal record or history of violence.
Mr. Lacasse said he hopes senior police administrators recognize that the money lost in lawsuits of this sort could be better used to train officers and give them more time to investigate crime.
“...they are playing with people's lives”
"I'm aware of the fact that all police officers are not bad, but there are enough out there that the system has to be realigned somehow," Mr. Lacasse said.
"It is a serious waste of money, and they are playing with people's lives."
Mr. Sokolov said police have to realize that for most accused people, the most important proceeding they attend is the bail hearing.
"They have a duty to conduct bail hearings with the utmost care and integrity," Mr. Sokolov said. "If they fail in their duty, the system can go horribly wrong, and innocent people who have never been convicted of anything end up stuck in custody."
In their statement of defence in the case, police said Mr. Lacasse should have known he would frighten his neighbour by carrying a gun into his back yard.
They maintained that Mr. Lacasse did not tell them about his plan for target practice in the back yard, and that he was the author of his misfortune because he said initially that he did not have a firearm.