The man who was repeatedly hit by a Kelowna RCMP officer during an arrest in downtown Kelowna in May 2020 took the stand Thursday in the assault trial of the officer who punched him.
Const. Siggy Pietrzak was charged with the single count of assault in April 2021, close to a year after he was involved in a violent arrest of Tyler Russell in the parking lot behind the downtown Kelowna BMO Bank of Montreal off Water Street on May 30, 2020.
The arrest was captured on video, which shows two officers, Const. David Carter and Const. Regan Donahue, struggling to arrest Russell, before Const. Pietrzak runs up to the three men and begins repeatedly punching Russell in the face. The other two officers are holding Russell's arms while Pietrzak delivers the blows.
Wednesday, several officers, including Const. Carter and Donahue, testified about how Russell refused to comply with their directions after Const. Carter attempted to arrest Russell for obstruction.
Const. Carter said Russell was sitting in a parked truck when he approached Russell and demanded a breath sample. When Russell refused, the officer attempted to arrest him, and Russell resisted.
But Russell testified Thursday that while he was intoxicated while sitting in his truck in the parking lot, he knew he hadn't done anything wrong, so he refused to comply with the officer's demands.
Russell, who was 30 years old at the time of the incident, said his brother was visiting from out of town on the Saturday the incident occurred, and he attended his mother's house for lunch around noon. He, his brother and his friend began drinking in downtown bars around 1 p.m. and continued through most of the afternoon.
“Not partying, just some casual drinks,” he testified. “It'd been a while since I'd seen my brother. Some casual drinks in downtown Kelowna.”
He estimated he drank about 10 beers and three ounces of liquor, along with using some cocaine, over a six-hour period prior to the incident, but he said he was not heavily intoxicated as he had a very high alcohol tolerance at the time. He told the court he would regularly drink a 26-ounce bottle of liquor after work at that point in his life.
At some point in the evening, Russell said he returned to his parked truck, but gave his keys to his brother.
“I was a little bit intoxicated, that's why I gave my keys to my brother. But I wasn't completely wasted, unknowing what was going on,” he said.
“Don't get me wrong, I was intoxicated to the point of realizing that there could be potential danger if I drove. That's why I gave my brother my keys.”
Russell sat in the truck for some time, stepping outside on several occasions to smoke cigarettes. He said he specifically exited out of the passenger-side door as he “didn't want any crap as far as being accused of drinking and driving.”
But after someone reported to police that he was acting erratically, Const. Jacqualine Davidson approached Russell and spoke with him. But she left the scene as he didn't appear to be committing any offences.
Some time later, Const. Carter approached Russell's truck and demanded the breath sample.
“I didn't want to give a breath sample because I knew I was drinking that day, intoxicated, and I didn't need a DUI as I drive for my job and I wasn't drinking and driving,” Russell said Thursday. “There was no need for a breathalyzer as far as I was concerned as I was sitting on the passenger side of the vehicle without keys anywhere in the vicinity.”
In an ongoing civil suit Russell has filed against Pietrzak and the RCMP, Russell's lawyer Michael Patterson said his client had “no obligation to comply with unlawful demands,” as “his keys were not in his possession or near him and he was not in violation of any criminal or bylaw offences.”
The RCMP officers testified Wednesday that they never found the keys to the truck on Russell or in the truck.
Russell demonstrated to the court how he managed to keep his hands apart behind his back when Const. Carter and Donahue attempted to handcuff him. Russell admitted he may have balled up his fists as he struggled to keep his hands apart, as it helped him “get a little more strength.” Const. Donahue has testified the balling of his fists was one of the factors that led him to believe Russell was becoming “assaultive,” which caused the officers to escalate their response.
Russell testified he had no intention to strike the arresting officers had he got his arms free. Const. Carter testified Russell did not throw any punches at him, but that his aggressive body language signalled an "intent to assault." The officer testified it was one of the top 10 most difficult arrests he's had to make.
Russell said he never saw or heard Pietrzak run up to him during the struggle, but he remembers the first couple of punches Pietrzak hit him with. But he said after the first couple punches connected with his face, the next thing he remembers is being in the back of the RCMP cruiser.
Const. Macklin McCall testified Wednesday that a crowd had formed around the incident when he arrived on scene, and bystanders were yelling at the police. He said he threatened to arrest one of the bystanders for obstruction.
Russel said he remembers yelling to the crowd to call a lawyer at one point during the struggle, and Const. Donahue testified Russell was also yelling for someone to call his mother.
While the violent arrest ended with Pietrzak repeatedly punching Russell in the face to subdue him, no charges were ever laid against Russell in the matter.
Russell was taken to the Kelowna RCMP cells, where he says he repeatedly demanded medical attention for the cut above his eye and the scrapes on his face. He was placed in a restraint chair, which Staff Sgt. Martin Trudeau called a “Hannibal Lecter chair” Wednesday. A “spit hood” was also placed over his head, despite Staff. Sgt. Trudeau testifying Russell hadn't been spitting up to that point.
Russell was eventually taken to Kelowna General Hospital in an ambulance, but Russell says he never saw a doctor at the hospital, and he was escorted from the hospital grounds by security guards and police.
“I was worried that the second I stepped off the hospital grounds, that I would again be arrested and beat up again,” he testified. “So from the hospital I ran directly to my mom's house. It's about a block and a half.
“I knew it wasn't right. How they went about everything, as far as the punches in the face and the wrongful arrest for something I didn't do.”
Russell said he stopped drinking so heavily shortly after the incident occurred, but he was recently convicted of obstruction of a police officer and assault related to a September 2020 incident that involved a fight at a BBQ.
Pietrzak was also facing a separate domestic assault charge against a female complainant stemming from an off-duty incident in West Kelowna over several months in 2017, but that charge was stayed by the BC Prosecution Service just last week.
The trial will take a break for a couple of weeks, and it's scheduled to continue on June 10, 23 and 24.