Public hearing resumes into misconduct allegations against transit officers a decade after assault at Vancouver SkyTrain station

Empty seats are seen on a empty SkyTrain leaving the waterfront train platform in downtown Vancouver, Monday, April 20, 2020. (Jonathan Hayward / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

A public hearing into misconduct allegations against one current and one former transit police officer began Tuesday, more than 10 years after an assault at a Vancouver SkyTrain station.

The hearing, which was ordered by former police complaint commissioner Stan Lowe, originally convened in 2018, but was adjourned after the officers petitioned the B.C. Supreme Court to quash the hearing.

According to court documents, the court ruled the decision to hold the hearing was an "abuse of process" given the delay involved. However, last year the B.C. Court of Appeal restored the notice of public hearing, saying the previous judge had failed to consider the "significant public interest in having the complaint addressed in full."

On Aug. 10, 2011, a first-year University of British Columbia student and varsity football player whose identity is protected was violently detained by transit police at the Rupert Street SkyTrain Station. The 22-year-old Black man was tackled, punched and beaten with a baton 10 times in the head, neck and back, according to court documents.

He had gone to meet a friend, and had entered the "Fare Paid" zone, but had not purchased a ticket as he did not intend to ride the train.

Transit police officers Const. Edgardo Diaz-Rodriguez and then-constable Michael Hughes detained the young man and were under the mistaken view he had not given them his real name.

Court documents outlined how Const. Hughes told the man he was under arrest, and then both officers grabbed his wrists.

The man became concerned for his safety and tried to run away, at which point Const. Diaz-Rodriguez "tackled and punched him, then drew his baton" and proceeded to strike the man 10 times over the course of about nine seconds, causing injuries including a six-inch laceration on the back of his head.

Hughes quit the force one year after the incident. Diaz-Rodriguez pleaded guilty to assault causing bodily harm in the attack and was sentenced to 12 months' probation in 2016.

Retired transit police officer Manon Bentley was the first to testify at the hearing. She said she was in the area checking transit fares when she heard men’s voices and commands to “get down on the ground.”

“When I arrived on the scene and I saw the size of this man…and the members that were already using their batons on him, and he was not reacting, he was trying to get away, I figured this man had a lot of power,” Bentley testified in response to a question from Diaz-Rodriguez’s lawyer David Butcher about a decision to take out her own baton. “So I was getting myself prepared for a fight.”

Butcher: “Your first impression of this incident was simply that (the complainant) was a very large man, trying to flee from the police.”

Bentley: “That’s correct.”

Const. Leanne Smith, currently a dog handler with the transit police, testified she had been with Bentley at that time while she was field training as a recruit, and also heard shouts. She told the hearing she saw an altercation.

“There’s a struggle, it seems that the two members are trying to gain control of (the complainant), and he’s trying to resist and get away,” she said. When asked whether the man was acting aggressively towards police, Smith said she thought he was “flailing” and trying to escape.

Smith said she saw the officers had their batons out at the time but did not witness any strikes. She said the confrontation moved into the street, with the man falling to the ground twice. She testified there were commands being yelled, and saw Diaz-Rodriguez strike the man on the leg, after which he fell forward onto the ground.

Hughes was not present at the hearing, and adjudicator Ron McKinnon was told he may not be participating. Butcher raised the prospect of having him removed from the proceedings to then return as a witness. McKinnon said he would make a decision at a later time.