An RCMP officer caught on camera, who appears to repeatedly punch a man, took the stand in a Kelowna Provincial Court for the first time during his assault trial.
Const. Siggy Pietrzak was charged with assault in April 2021, almost a year after he was involved in what was called a violent arrest in downtown Kelowna.
The man placed under arrest in the May 30, 2020 incident was allegedly non-compliant and was taken into custody for obstruction of justice. Tyler Russell agreed that he was non-compliant, during his testimony earlier this year.
Const. David Carter, the officer to initially place Russell under arrest, previously told the court that he demanded that Russell take a breathalyzer test, under the suspicion of intoxicated driving.
An investigation determined that Russell did not possess the keys to the vehicle that he was sitting in. Russell alleges that he had no intention of driving and was waiting for his friends.
When Carter attempted to place Russell under arrest, Russell raised his voice and Carter called for backup.
At this time, Pietrzak offered his assistance, but the watch command dispatched Const. Donahue to the scene.
A few minutes after arriving on the scene, Donahue requested backup.
During Tuesday’s proceedings, Const. Pietrzak told the court that he was not formally dispatched, however, he felt it was appropriate to attend the scene.
After arriving, Pietrzak claimed he saw Donahue and Carter on either side of Russell and they appeared to be tired and struggling to complete the arrest.
Pietrzak stated he witnessed handcuffs and a microphone had fallen on the ground.
He then told the court he saw Russell stand up, while Carter had him in a headlock. This motion allegedly knocked the two Mounties into a truck, parked behind them.
Pietrzak said that he could see one of Russell’s arms “flailing around” and believed his hand was in a fist.
However, during Carter’s proceedings earlier in the trial he told the court that Russell was not being aggressive.
“My assessment is that Mr. Russell was behaving in an assaultive( sic) manner… based on the totality of everything that I saw…. I felt that an extremely fast response was required,” said Pietrzak on Tuesday.
In an effort to help, Pietrzak decided to sprint towards the altercation with the intention of “cinching” Russell’s legs. He alleged that he shortened his stride and changed direction when he realized that he was not able to access the legs.
Pietrzak said that he then changed tactics and, unsuccessfully, attempted to grab Russell’s head, to gain control of the situation.
That is when he told the court he referred back to his training and decided that using strikes to “refocus “ and “imbalance” Russell would be advantageous.
“My intention was to get Mr. Russell into police custody as quickly and as effectively as possible.”
Pietrzak then delivered the first round of blows to Russell’s head, which is captured on video. He alleged that two of the four strikes connected.
“The fourth strike changed Mr. Russell’s behaviour,” said Pietrzak.
Yet, the court was told four more strikes were delivered by Pietrzak, with some connecting.
Russell was then taken into custody.
Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet confirmed that Pietrzak remains suspended with pay. She said that his duty status remains subject to ongoing review and assessment and the code of conduct investigation is also ongoing.
The trial is expected to conclude on Sept. 22, with a decision being made in December.
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