Use-of-force expert testifies in trial over rough downtown Kelowna arrest

Expert: force was excessive

An expert in RCMP use-of-force tactics was allowed to take the stand Thursday as the trial of RCMP Const. Siggy Pietrzak resumed in a Kelowna courtroom.

Pietrzak is charged with a single count of assault stemming from a May, 2020 arrest of Tyler Russell in downtown Kelowna. Video shows Pietrzak struck Russell several times in the face while two other officers struggled to make an arrest.

Prior to a pause in the case, lawyers on both sides argued the merits of allowing Staff Sgt. Leonard McCoshen, a qualified use-of-force expert who has testified in previous trials, to take the stand.

Thursday morning, Judge Mariane Armstrong ruled McCoshen could testify.

During nearly two hours of testimony Thursday morning, Crown prosecutor David Hainey walked McCoshen through the RCMP's Incident Management Intervention Model (IMIM), a tool officers use to assess and manage risk when encountering the public.

He described how officers use risk assessment techniques to determine how to approach a suspect and what level of force is necessary in order to make an arrest, and how to change their tactics if necessary as the incident unfolds.

McCoshen described differences between soft physical control and hard physical control, utilizing pressure points, arm bars or handcuffs to control a suspect with minimal force as opposed to strikes using a closed or open hand, elbow or knees to gain control.

He indicated in a hard-physical control scenario, strikes are meant to distract a subject, or change their behaviour.

Officers, McCoshen says, are trained to generally administer one or two strikes as a distractionary technique.

"If an officer continued to strike someone repeatedly, more than a couple of times, I would argue they are not distractionary strikes," McCoshen told the court.

"The purpose is to provide a quick reminder or realization that the police are trying to control you and the distractionary strike would be that I'm here, I want you to change your behaviour.

"If strikes were being made by the officer, there should be some assessment whether those strikes are effective and, if they are effective, then they should stop."

McCoshen also suggested an officer should not use full force when they strike suspects but, instead, are taught to use 50 per cent of their power, or less.

McCoshen viewed two separate videos which captured the events pertaining to Pietrzak involvement in the arrest of Russell. After both, he stated the actions of Pietrzak were not consistent with RCMP training.

"As indicated earlier, I would agree on or two strikes to the head would be distractionary, and in this case there are more than that, I count four strikes to the head with no time in between time to assess their effectiveness, or Mr. Russell's response."

Following a slow motion showing of the video, McCoshen said his opinion of the events did not change.

Defence attorney's will cross examine McCoshen Thursday and Friday.

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