Nathan Lasuik doesn’t deny he’s guilty of three counts of assault, but all charges against him should be dropped after a police officer pinned his neck to the ground for four minutes, ignoring his pleas for air, his lawyer argued Monday.
"A remedy in this case is about deterrence... about the court telling these officers their actions are not acceptable," defence lawyer Mitch Merriott told provincial court Judge David Mann in a closing argument. "The court can’t wait for somebody to be seriously injured or die... before a message is sent."
Court has heard Lasuik, who is from Fort McMurray, Alta., assaulted another man outside James Richardson International Airport in August 2019 and then assaulted two Manitoba RCMP officers who attempted to arrest him.
Security video provided to court shows Lasuik, 44, twice assaulting Const. Eric Gerein before another officer, Const. Slobodan Dukic, took him to the ground.
A cellphone video recorded by Lasuik’s father shows Gerein pinning the side of Lasuik’s neck to the ground with his knee, while Dukic pinned his midsection and an airport manager held his legs. Lasuik’s hands were cuffed in front of him and underneath his body.
"I’m gonna die," Lasuik can be heard screaming on the video. "Let me breathe."
"You’re breathing," Gerein shouted in response. "When you’re talking, you’re breathing."
Lasuik continued to plead for Gerein to remove his knee from his neck, to which Gerein responded: "Please nothing. You opened your mouth one too many times… Aw, now you’re a tough guy, aren’t you?"
Gerein "was punishing Mr. Lasuik for what he did to him," Merriott said. "Mr. Lasuik made him angry that night and Const. Gerein felt disrespected."
Earlier Monday, a police use of force expert testified there was no acceptable reason for Gerein to have put his knee on Lasuik’s neck.
"I don’t know of any training that officers are trained to go across the neck," said Sgt. Kelly Keith, of the Ste. Anne police department. "Since 1988, I have not been taught or shown a technique to go across the neck… It’s a dangerous area. The risk of injury is much higher."
“I don’t know of any training that officers are trained to go across the neck... Since 1988, I have not been taught or shown a technique to go across the neck… It’s a dangerous area. The risk of injury is much higher." — Sgt. Kelly Keith of the Ste. Anne police department
Testifying earlier this month, Gerein told court he put his knee underneath Lasuik’s shoulder blades, as he was trained. Shown the cellphone video, he said his knee must have "rolled" onto Lasuik’s neck as he struggled.
Keith said it would not be unusual for a knee to land on someone’s neck during a fight, but it should be removed as quickly as possible. Keith said he saw nothing in the cellphone video that would have prevented Gerein from moving his knee off of Lasuik’s neck.
"I don’t see (Lasuik) lashing out, I don’t see any body movement," Keith said. "I don’t see anything in his actions that would cause me concern."
If someone is screaming they can’t breathe, police have to ask them why and adjust their response accordingly, Keith said.
"Whether it’s a ruse or not, if it’s a five per cent chance that he’s telling the truth, I need to move off that neck," Keith said. "I’ve done enough training to know that in the position (Lasuik) was in, we can do this without a problem."
Court heard testimony Lasuik was aggressive with paramedics and had to be sedated two times, suggesting Gerein and Dukic were correct in concluding Lasuik still posed a risk to the public, Crown attorney Thomas Boult argued.
Keith said Lasuik’s later behaviour was irrelevant. What matters, Keith said, is what threat a person poses at the time police apply force.
"Even in shootings, if they shoot at us, and they give up, we don’t do retribution," Keith said. "It’s based on what they are doing at the time."
Mann has reserved his decision.
Someone once said a journalist is just a reporter in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t own a good suit. But he knows a good lawsuit.