Judge hears closing arguments in Edmonton police officer's assault case

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In one version of the story, Const. Michael Partington is a dutiful police officer who mistakenly used more force than intended while trying to help a fellow officer subdue a resisting suspect.

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In the other, he needlessly drove his knee into the back of a defenceless civilian, then attempted to minimize his wrongdoing.

A judge will decide later this month which version of the story he believes.

Partington, a five-year Edmonton Police Service veteran, is accused of dropping his knee into the back of Elliot McLeod after being called to assist in his arrest on Aug. 27, 2019.

Partington was criminally charged and suspended without pay in June 2020 after a video emerged of the arrest. The revelation came amidst global protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers.

Friday marked the final day of Partington’s trial on a single charge of assault.

Judge Peter Ayotte heard closing arguments from Crown and defence after a week of witness testimony.

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Suspect stopped for riding without bell

Const. Curtis McCargar initially stopped McLeod — who is Indigenous — near 118 Avenue after spotting him riding his bike on the sidewalk without a bell.

McLeod stopped to speak with McCargar but eventually took off on his bike after giving a fake name.

McCargar caught up to McLeod and wrestled him to the ground, where he delivered several punches to the back of his head.

At some point, he radioed dispatch seeking an additional officer to help with handcuffing.

McCargar portrayed the arrest as a desperate fight, made worse by a sudden injury to his hand. He worried McLeod was reaching into his waistband, and recalled thinking to himself “thank God” when Partington arrived to help.

McCargar admitted to verbally abusing McLeod in a moment of frustration, leaning over him to yell “do not run from the police” and calling him a “fat f—” and a “motherf—er.”

Partington testified he intended to “place” his knee on McLeod’s back to help apply the handcuffs. He claimed he was “surprised” at the amount of force he used when the video later became public.

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Michael Danyluik, Partington’s lawyer, argued his client’s actions were “reasonable” and “necessary.” Partington was called to help an officer who, in his mind, was clearly struggling to handcuff a resisting suspect, Danyluik said. For McCargar — a “large and powerful man” — this was unusual and a cause for concern.

Partington testified that when he arrived on scene, McLeod was screaming and struggling beneath McCargar. He recalled the “furious” look on his colleague’s face and the veins bulging from his forearms. He said his intent was to further restrain McLeod and handcuff him as quickly as possible.

Danyluik said Partington was calm and professional throughout the arrest and showed “not one drop of anger.” He denied yelling at McLeod or verbally abusing him (though whether he uttered “shut up” in response to McLeod’s cries of pain remains in dispute), and even advised McCargar to watch his language.

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Danyluik said that Canadian law does not require police officers to precisely measure their use of force.

“The law here does not hold police to some robotic, machine-like standard of exactitude and perfection,” he said. “It builds in a buffer for inexact measurement, and it builds in a buffer for misjudgment.”

Crown says officers ‘amped up’ stories

Crown prosecutor Carla MacPhail, on the other hand, argued Partington and McCargar embellished their stories to “amp up” the drama and urgency of the situation.

She noted, for example, that Partington claimed he sped to the scene with lights and sirens activated. None of the witnesses besides Partington testified to hearing sirens, and no sirens are audible on police radio calls played for the court.

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MacPhail argued that in reality, Partington had no reason to believe McCargar was injured or in imminent peril. She said that when he arrived on the scene, he saw not a chaotic struggle but “a proned-out civilian who had his arms behind his back, his legs spread apart, face-down on the ground, who was being stabilized by a strong officer.”

Without announcing his presence, Partington then “planted his foot, launched or lunged himself, and came down with his full weight onto Mr. McLeod’s upper back.” She noted that in the video, McLeod is silent until Partington delivers the blow with his knee.

MacPhail said Partington failed to properly report the use of force and authored a misleading police report that minimized his and McCargar’s actions.

That is evidence, she said, that he was not aware the interaction was being filmed by a bystander. Partington testified he knew the arrest was caught on camera, but that he did not care because he felt he’d done nothing wrong.

“The video puts the lie to the word ‘place,’ and calls into serious question why he didn’t report his use of force,” she said.  

Ayotte will give his decision Aug. 26.

jwakefield@postmedia.com

twitter.com/jonnywakefield

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