White Rock police who strip-searched an intoxicated woman following her December 2011 arrest breached the woman’s charter rights, a judge has ruled.
Judge Jennifer Oulton made the finding in Surrey Provincial Court Wednesday, prior to finding the same woman, Charlotte van Buuren, guilty of resisting arrest in connection with elbowing and kicking a White Rock officer.
“The evidence is unclear as to why Miss van Buuren was strip-searched,” Oulton said. “Reasonable and probable grounds were not established. I find there was a breach of Miss van Buuren’s Section 8 rights.”
Van Buuren was in court on charges of assaulting a peace officer and wilfully resisting/obstructing a peace officer in connection with an incident Dec. 11, 2011.
During two days of evidence, Oulton heard that van Buuren, now 27, was arrested in the 14900-block of Marine Drive after police witnessed her “kicking the head of a man lying on the ground who (the officer, Const. Saagar Prihar) thought was dead or unconscious.”
Prihar told the court he put his hand on van Buuren’s shoulder and shouted “stop, police.” She responded by calling him a “f—ing pig” and elbowing him in the face twice, Oulton heard. Shortly after, with no apparent provocation, van Buuren repeated the insult and kicked Prihar in the stomach, prompting another officer to assist in the arrest.
While defence counsel Elizabeth Lewis had alleged the arrest was unlawful and unnecessarily forceful – van Buuren sustained abrasions to her face when she was pushed to the ground and handcuffed – Oulton disagreed.
Noting van Buuren was “kicking and flailing” as officers worked to bring her under control, Oulton said the force used “was no more than was necessary.”
Lewis suggested her client’s right to counsel was breached when police delayed giving her that access. Oulton heard the move was due to van Buuren’s level of intoxication – logic she accepted, citing audio evidence in which van Buuren “sounds drunk and angry.”
Regarding the strip-search – for which officers had to restrain an “aggressive” van Buuren – Oulton said evidence made it unclear if police felt they were following policy or had grounds to believe van Buuren was concealing a weapon when they removed her bra and belly piercing.
The officers did not make a record of the reason for, or manner of, the search; and it was not authorized by a supervisor, she said.
Thursday, prosecutor Pam Bhatti told Peace Arch News she took that finding as a message to officers that “you need to be more clear on what you are doing and why you are doing it.”
“I think what they did was not wrong,” Bhatti said. “One officer did say if she was calm and co-operative, she could’ve done these things herself.”
While Oulton dismissed the assault charge, she acknowledged an assault did occur: “Considering all the evidence… I saw this as an assault that happened while resisting arrest.”
In arguing for an absolute discharge, Lewis said her client has no recollection of what transpired, is “mortified” and is apologetic.
“She certainly has learnt her lesson,” she said.
Oulton accepted Bhatti’s submission that a conditional discharge was appropriate. She imposed one year’s probation, during which time van Buuren must complete 50 hours of community service and abstain from alcohol.