Winnipeg police officer Sean Cassidy cleared of assault charge

A provincial judge has acquitted the Winnipeg police officer accused of allegedly assaulting a man during an arrest more than five years ago.

Manitoba Provincial Judge Sidney Lerner delivered his decision on Monday afternoon, acquitting Patrol Sgt. Sean Cassidy, who was charged with one count of assault causing bodily harm in connection with an arrest in Winnipeg on March 28, 2017.

Cassidy had pleaded not guilty to the charge.

Lerner said the charge was the result of an incident that began in the early morning hours of March 28, 2017.

He said the complainant in the case, Jamie Cote, had been with an employee in La Salle dropping off flyers for his landscaping business. Cassidy testified he had noticed Cote's truck while driving to his home following his shift with the Winnipeg Police Service.

"Patrol Sgt. Cassidy testified that because of recent break-in activity in La Salle, he viewed the presence and conduct of the complainant in La Salle with suspicion," Lerner said.

"It is at this point that the versions of the incident diverge dramatically."

In his testimony, Cassidy described a dangerous chase in La Salle, with Cote pursuing him onto the Perimeter Highway.

Cote, however, told court he was the one being chased by Cassidy, and said at one point Cassidy began swerving back and forth to prevent him from passing. Cassidy testified he was attempting to prevent Cote from pulling up beside him, fearing he may have a firearm in the vehicle and shoot him.

Lerner said this continued down St. Mary's Road where the arrest took place.

Again, Lerner said the court heard two different versions of what happened during the arrest.

Cote testified he stopped his truck and got out, and was then told by Cassidy to get back inside. At this point, Cote told the court he put his hands up and an officer came up to him and placed him on the ground.

"(Cote) says that he then heard a running sound and began receiving punches and knees to the face," Lerner said. "He testified he was punched twice and kneed twice in the face. He testified he began yelling, 'I'm not resisting, please don't hit me.'"

"The accused's version of events on St. Mary's Road was that he was obliged to strike the complainant three times in the course of arresting him, followed by a knee pin to the complaint's back in circumstances which the Crown says – and I agree – he believed did amount to a lawful use of force to subdue an individual resisting a lawful arrest."

Lerner said he is not in a position to reject Cassidy's evidence regarding his use of force, but does not believe Cassidy's evidence with respect to what happed in La Salle and on the Perimeter Highway."

"Simply put I cannot accept the events in those locations had transpired in the manner testified to by Patrol Sgt. Cassidy," Lerner said.

Lerner said after Cote was pulled over on St. Mary's Road, it is undisputed Cassidy charged towards him ahead of the two officers on scene – both of whom were armed and on-duty.

"On the facts, there was simply no need to have done so. More specifically, I find that a cautious experienced officer like Sgt. Cassidy would not have conducted himself in this manner if the events in La Salle and the Perimeter Highway had unfolded in the manner to which he testified."

Lerner said Crown Prosecutor Brett Rach had asked the court to accept Cassidy's testimony regarding the use of force he used, rather than Cote's – which Lerner said had a, "profound impact on the strength of the Crown's case."

"The complainant's evidence in this regard is not something about which a witness could be inadvertently mistaken," Lerner said.

"If, as the Crown proposes, the complainant is not to be believed on this point... that the complainant's evidence as a whole is called into question."

Lerner said this leaves him with a reasonable doubt as to Cote's allegations and as to Cote's conduct throughout the incident.

"In the end result, I am left in the position of uncertainty as to who and what is to be believed in this case. Therefore I must and do acquit the accused of the charge against him," Lerner said.

Following the decision, Cassidy was seen hugging some of those in the courtroom's gallery.

In an emailed statement to CTV News, Cassidy's defence lawyer Lisa LaBossiere said, "Our client Sean Cassidy has always maintained and continues to maintain his innocence. He is happy with the result."