If you’re a dedicated, hard-working Law Enforcement Officer who likes to arrest and lock up criminals, you will likely have allegations of assault or other misconduct levelled against you at some point during your career. It’s an unfortunate hazard of the job.
Certain criminals have developed a modus operandi that includes the fine art of deflecting attention from their crimes by making false accusations against Police Officers.
It happened to me early in my career when I was charged with Assault Causing Bodily Harm after one of Winnipeg’s’ most notorious criminals made false assault allegations against me and two of my co-workers. The allegations fell apart in Court after testimony was heard from an independent witness who provided evidence my accuser offered to pay him money to support a fabricated account of events.
Years later I would be forced to defend myself once again at a Law Enforcement Review Agency (LERA) Trial, this time accused of Assault and Abuse of Authority.
The allegations were made by a LERA “frequent flier” who was trying to make a career out of making complaints against Police Officers. My complaint was his seventh (7th) attempt. His earlier complaints were all dismissed. His frustration with his lack of success undoubtedly contributed to his extraordinary efforts to make the charges stick against me. Self-inflicted injuries and a visit to the Hospital to secure a medical record to use in my prosecution ensured his complaint would be taken seriously. I had to admit, the guy put some thought and planning into his work.
I realized I couldn’t take my accuser lightly, even though it was clear he had significant mental health issues, a guilty finding could mean the end of my beloved career in Policing.
These kind of stakes dictated the need to secure top-notch legal representation. For me, the choice was clear, I would request the services of respected Winnipeg Criminal Lawyer Mr. Richard J. Wolson, QC.
A decade or so earlier, circa 1993 I believe, I had the distinct pleasure of watching Mr Wolson in action during his defense of Winnipeg Police Detectives Dave Shipman & Mike Sutherland (current Winnipeg Police Association President) who found themselves on the wrong end of criminal allegations.
Mr Wolson’s artful dissection of the RCMP members evidence was a sight to behold. Pointed, direct, aggressive, relentless questioning saw these unprepared officers crack under the pressure. I sat there in stunned silence and found myself feeling sympathy for the RCMP members even though they were critical witnesses for a prosecution that could have ended my colleagues careers.
After slaying the RCMP witnesses an acquittal was all but assured. Both Shipman & Sutherland would leave the Courtroom with their careers in law enforcement fully intact.
I have no doubt that watching Mr Wolson in action made me a significantly better Police Officer, investigator and professional witness. At the conclusion of the trial I promised myself I would never be on the end of an ass whooping like the one I’d witnessed in that Courtroom. As a result, my note taking, attention to detail and professionalism all dramatically increased.
Mr Wolson brought the same passion and skill into the courtroom during his defense of my LERA charges. The frailties of my accuser were exposed during intense cross-examination and the charges were ultimately dismissed.
Years later the lofty regard I had for Mr Wolson would only be multiplied by his performance during his cross-examination of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney during the Inquiry into the affairs of political lobbyist Karlheinz Schreiber.
As The Globe & Mails court room reporter Christine Blatchford put it, “I have never seen such a one as Brian Mulroney, being questioned by Richard Wolson, a lawyer from Winnipeg whose pauses alone are terrifying.”
There can be no doubt, it was Wolson’s terrifying cross-examination of accuser Henry Lavallee that resulted in yesterdays acquittal of WPS Constable Ryan Law who faced career ending charges of Aggravated Assault.
I made sure to attend the Law Courts to observe what I expected to be an eventful day of testimony when Mr Lavallee took the witness stand. I wasn’t disappointed.
Much like a vintage wine, I would see that Mr Wolson’s game had only become bolder, smoother, and more full-bodied with the passage of time.
Although there was no way Lavallee could have seen it coming, things started to go down hill for him the moment Mr Wolson got out of bed that morning. After being forced to admit he really wasn’t the polite, respectable citizen he tried to portray himself as during his direct evidence, Mr Lavallee was forced to admit the truth. In reality, he was a Police hating career criminal with more than fifty-seven (57) criminal convictions on his record.
He had to further admit he has the nasty habit of spitting in Police Officers faces when he is frequently arrested.
It got better!
Lavallee capitulated as he contradicted his direct evidence and admitted the Police really haven’t assaulted him or failed to read him his rights every time he gets arrested as he so strongly averred during his initial evidence. In fact, the number plummeted downward from a solid 100% of the time, to an unconvincing 75% of the time, to a not so firm 50% of the time.
I especially enjoyed the exchanges where Mr Wolson asked Lavallee if he had referred to Constable Law as a “bitch” at the time of his arrest. “Maybe he is a bitch”, Lavallee replied. “Maybe you are too,” Lavallee said as he glared at Wolson.
By the time it was over Mr Wolson destroyed whatever potential may have existed for anyone in their right mind to believe anything that had come out of Lavallee’s foul mouth. An acquittal practically guaranteed by virtue of the brilliant, pointed, aggressive cross-examination so masterfully performed by Mr Wolson.
When the acquittal was finally read I wondered if Mr Wolson was quietly thinking to himself, “Who’s the bitch now Henry?”
If you happen to be one of those hard-working, dedicated cops I spoke of, take heed, program Mr Wolson’s telephone number into your smart phone and call him the moment the next criminal misfit tries to take you down.
It just might be the smartest move you’ll ever make.
*Edited version repost from The Power of Words January 16, 2013.