EDMONTON - Edmonton police grossly violated the charter rights of a suspected drunk driver by detaining and strip-searching him to "teach him a lesson," a provincial court judge has ruled.
"It was a gross abuse of the power of detention," Judge Allan Lefever said in a strongly-worded judgment in which he dismissed two charges against Jeffrey Donald Pringle for lack of evidence, including a charge of assaulting a police officer.
The judge also threw out two other charges because police violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
A police spokesman declined comment until the ruling is studied by the department's lawyers.
Pringle and his lawyer, Tom Engel, were unavailable Wednesday for comment.
In his ruling, Lefever accepted arguments by Pringle that the police violated sections of the Charter dealing with arbitrary detention and probable grounds for conducting a search. The violations were serious enough to justify dismissing the charges, Lefever ruled.
The events that led to the ruling occurred early on the morning of Feb. 4, 2001.
According to evidence set out in the ruling, police officers followed a car driven by Pringle. They arrested him and a fellow passenger and took them to the Old Strathcona police station after their car became stuck, and it appeared they had been drinking.
Lefever found that Pringle wasn't a model prisoner. Police notes on his behaviour depicted him as "a very angry, young man."
He was handcuffed on two occasions for kicking the metal door of a room where he was being held between attempts to call a lawyer, after police asked him to supply breath samples.
The decision to detain and strip-search Pringle was made after he allegedly struck one officer. Lefever said, however, that the evidence of several officers in the vicinity of the incident was too conflicting to permit a conclusion.
Some of the police evidence, including one instance in which an officer used whiteout to alter his written report, led to basic questions about the credibility of some of the police evidence, he wrote.
He noted police had already called Pringle's mother, who came to the station and told officers her son was upset by a friend's death.
Rather than turn him over to his mother, however, police decided to keep him in custody for a judicial hearing on his release. The decision, Lefever wrote, resulted in a trip to the downtown police station and a strip-search required under police procedures. The requirement to appear before a justice of the peace resulted in a detention lasting another eight hours.
The only reason for detaining Pringle, Lefever said, was to teach him a lesson for allegedly striking a police officer.
The decision was "cavalier" with respect to Pringle's mother, Sharon, and was "consistent with a decision to make an example of Pringle."
"In my view," Lefever wrote, "the decision to not release Pringle to his mother ... was punitive and intended to show Pringle who had more power in the situation."
He cited other court rulings that unjustified strip searches are inherently humiliating and degrading. "It is my opinion that the decision to send Pringle to the detention unit was done for the purpose of punishing and humiliating Pringle," he wrote.
". . . The decision was high-handed and without lawful justification. It was a gross abuse of the police power of detention."
While the Crown supplied enough evidence to prove the charges of failing to stop his car for a police officer and failing to provide a breath sample, the violation of Pringle's Charter rights was serious enough to justify a dismissal of the charges, Lefever wrote.