A suspended South Okanagan RCMP officer’s six-year run on the other side of the law came to an end Friday with an acquittal on a perjury charge.
The charge stemmed from a single line of testimony Cpl. Andre Turcotte gave in January 2010 while defending himself at trial on a separate assault charge. Turcotte was found guilty of the assault and given a 60-day conditional sentence for beating Ian Scott Campbell unconscious on the side of Highway 97 near Summerland in 2007 while the Mountie was off-duty.
Crown counsel asserted Turcotte made up a story about being a watch commander during the trial to justify his police database searches on his victim, which they alleged he then turned around to use to discredit Campbell. The Crown alleged Turcotte lied to save his credibility during the assault trial.
Campbell did not know who Turcotte was or what he looked like at the time the assault case was being investigated, whereas Turcotte did know what Campbell looked like. When the assault investigation was launched, Turcotte was transferred to the Penticton detachment. His argument that he should be sent to Kelowna because he felt the Penticton posting would result in run-ins with Campbell while he was on duty went ignored.
Turcotte’s assumption was correct, and he testified in the assault trial that Campbell once came in to have his fingerprints taken while the Mountie was in the detachment.
Turcotte said the front desk person informed him there was a client with a promise to appear to have fingerprints taken. He said he looked at the desk and saw Campbell was the client and decided it was not appropriate for him to take the prints because of the assault investigation. Turcotte testified he was the watch commander and the only officer in the detachment so he “did some search” and “the work-up” on Campbell but left a file on his desk and informed two officers, who by this time returned to their desks, that he was not taking the prints. He said he then left the detachment because he felt uncomfortable and did not check to see if the prints were taken when he returned.
Crown provided evidence that Turcotte had been on the police database to check on Campbell four times, which is as many times as Turcotte said he had run-ins with Campbell.
During the perjury trial this week, it was suggested this was for inappropriate reasons and Turcotte replied there was confusion over his answers in the line of questioning he was “bombarded” with at the assault trial. Turcotte said he was actually answering a previous question about his run-ins with Campbell and that is where the sentences that came under fire for perjury originated.
Turcotte said his “search” and “work up” on Campbell the day he went in for fingerprints involved him going to where the physical files are stored pulling it and leaving it on his desk and not a computer database.
“What he meant by doing search and work up on a client do not relate to the simple task of puling a file. Why did he not simply say pull a file?” Justice Peter Butler said in his decision.
Evidence at the perjury trial confirmed Campbell had his fingerprints taken during the daytime on Feb. 18, 2007, and that Turcotte had not worked until later that evening. Defence for Turcotte put forward a scenario that Campbell may have come in before his prescribed date.
Despite other RCMP officers testifying at the perjury trial that it was common practice to accommodate those who came in before their scheduled date to get their prints taken and only turning them away if police were busy, Justice Butler said this was not enough corroborating evidence to show that is exactly what happened.
“Campbell attending fingerprinting prior to Feb. 18 is a realistic possibility,” said Butler, adding it still does not prove that is what Campbell did.
Butler said although Turcotte provided the same answers in the perjury trial as he did in the assault trial and responded directly and with detail, he did have some doubts.
“The explanation about the search and file work-up is a very convenient explanation,” said Butler.
In his analysis of Campbell’s testimony, he said the man was “smug and defiant” on the witness stand with little or no respect for the police or the courts. He said he put little weight on what Campbell said for a couple of reasons, including the inability to recall what Butler believed were significant dates related to court appearances. Campbell also only remembered the Feb. 18 date because that is what the piece of paper his promise to appear for fingerprinting had written on it.
Turcotte, who served 14.5 years with the RCMP, including posts in Summerland, Penticton and Kelowna before he was suspended without pay, told the court he has since moved on to be an electrician and is close to becoming a journeyman.